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The Manziel Argument

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Every Cleveland media outlet this morning is having the same argument, through printed word, electronic media, or on the air. The gist is essentially the same at every stop.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

"Johnny Manziel is a bust. Legit starting quarterbacks show you something when they make it onto the field"

Theory: Manziel's first start reinforced what fans saw in the preseason. He struggled to shift his weight properly, get any zip on the ball, or stay in the pocket during the first sign of trouble. He throws across his body on the run, a critical mistake that quarterbacks can't make at the NFL level with any kind of regularity and be successful. He's not fast enough to outrun defenders"

Reality: I discussed this before the season started, and before Manziel's first start. The biggest problem Cleveland Browns fans have experienced this year relate to managing expectations with regards to Johnny. His electric talent in college lured fans into thinking that he was ready to immediately produce at the NFL level and created a thoroughly unrealistic set of expectations for what he was going to do. The reality is that ALL rookie QB's struggle, and those with only two years under center in college are likely to need seasoning and development. What Browns fans saw from Manziel in his first start was exactly what Mike Pettine feared: a QB who needs time to adjust to the speed of the game, and isn't yet comfortable going through multiple reads when under pressure.

"I only want to see Johnny run QB rollouts and bootlegs. I want the Brian Hoyer playbook for Manziel"

Theory: If Hoyer was successful running a very basic offense that removed the quarterback from the equation as much as possible, it should be easy to run the same plays with Manziel, keep the offense in a rhythm, and benefit from his legs and improved velocity"

Reality: the "Hoyer playbook" features a lot of plays that depend on timing and progressive reads. As much as the Shanahan "East Coast Offense" attempts to create open looks and open receivers, the system only works if the QB can execute from the pocket and move to a second read when his initial option is covered. Manziel has not yet shown that he's comfortable operating these concepts, and the offense installed for him was done so in the effort to keep his reads simple and his base formation in the shotgun/pistol. The Hoyer offense may be suitable for Johnny in 2015, but the offense Manziel was operating from this year was designed with his interests in mind.

"Kyle Shanahan is an idiot for running designed QB runs with a guy Manziel's size. It's how he ruined Robert Griffin III"

Theory: The designed runs and read-option plays are going to invariably injure and ruin any QB in a Shanahan system.

Answer: There's a nugget of truth in this, but the reality is a little bit more pragmatic and depressing. Kyle would love to operate his offense the same way Russell Wilson runs the Seattle offense; heavy doses of traditional running plays followed by a passing game that allows the QB to move around and find lanes. Wilson runs the ball when the play breaks down or when they fail to account for him, and does not open himself up to big hits from defenders.

Unfortunately, the Browns can't execute their offense this way any more because defenses aren't respecting the down field passing game, and because the offensive line isn't dominating the trenches the way it did early in the 2014 campaign. The pass blocking is messy, and neither Browns QB has been able to hit down field targets with any regularity despite single coverage. The Seahawks are dedicated to running the ball, but the passing game and Wilson's legs still demand respect. The line is comfortable with the system, as is the quarterback. The Browns will dedicate themselves to controlling the trenches again in 2015 with an influx of talent on both lines, which is how they had such great success in 2014. The game plan will remain consistent with 2014; run the ball heavily, force the defense to crash down and dedicate extra defenders to stopping the outside zone, and bootleg the quarterback in the opposite direction to buy time for deep passes.

As for Manziel running the ball and throwing on the move? It is what makes him a unique QB prospect. He has great velocity on the ball when his mechanics are fluid, and in college he could throw the ball well from any arm angle. Manziel's ceiling as prospect takes a big hit if he's forced to be a standard pocket passer. He can still develop into a unique and elite quarterbacking prospect if he can grow accustomed to reading defenses and using his mobility to buy time in the pocket. The crux of Manziel's development, a topic which promises be the #1 topic in the 2014-2015 off season, will revolve around his ability to do the all of things prototypical successful NFL quarterbacks do in the NFL. He'll need to dramatically improve in his ability to read defenses, go through progressions, and work from the pocket with velocity on his throws. The things that were exciting and enticing to the casual sports fan will have to be secondary skills that are used when the play breaks down, not the nominal part of his daily offense. His body and development depend on it. The popular theory about Griffin's failures in Washington were related to his knee injury, but the reality is that he's never become adept at reading a defense or throwing with anticipation, and that's what killed the Washington offense this year in games he started.

End of the day, I can not blame Browns coaches for trying to do what Manziel is capable of doing at this moment to provide a spark and galvanize a moribund offense. He and Manziel have to do a better job of emphasizing personal safety over gaining a few yards on a poorly executed play. Manziel received part of his NFL education on Sunday, and despite not suffering a major injury from that specifically, he has to learn that he can not lower his pads and create contact with defenders.

"The Browns have to look at addressing the QB situation in the offseason."

Theory: Since Manziel has struggled and Farmer has been rumored to other QB's in college and in the pros, it stands to reason that he will be looking to bring "his guy" in for the 2015 season.

Reality: Where is this QB coming from? The sad reality is that the Browns are married to Johnny Manziel for the 2015 season, unless something spectacularly unusual happens. The 2015 draft is light on elite quarterbacking prospects, and if you can't bring in a guy that Farmer and Pettine are willing to bet the farm on, the smart move is (and will continue to be) the development of Manziel into a complete QB prospect. The Browns redshirted Manziel to this end, and 1.2 games worth of action isn't going to dissuade their 2015 plans one bit. (The caveat to that is that the coaching staff and front office see Manziel play every day in practice, and may have data that is not available to us)

There are no less than 5-7 teams that are looking for a new QB this offseason. The free agent class offers few reasonable options, with many needy teams likely kicking the tires on Jay Cutler. The 2015 draft class, aside from Marcus Mariota, offer huge concerns in both level of play and commitment to the game. (Hundley, Mariota) The landscape for replacements is bleak, and it will be a sellers market for talent.

"If we had started Manziel from day 1, he would have taken his lumps and been ready to go by the first day of 2015 training camp"

Theory: Manziel takes the developmental lumps early in the season, gets used to the speed of the game, and develops confidence with some late season successes. Just like Andrew Luck in 2012, the challenges he faces truly ready him for his sophomore NFL season.

Reality: Manziel was an incredibly raw talent coming out of college, and needed a redshirt season to maximize his potential in 2015. Learning a pro style offense is important, but takes a back seat from being able to read and diagnose NFL defensive concepts. Manziel has made incredible leaps in his capability every year of professional football, and this is not the first time he's been written off as a bust.

The 2014 red shirt concept was thought to be a way to make him comfortable when he sees the field for the first time, allowing his natural instincts and creativity to flow. The Browns could have accelerated the development of rookie QB by picking one that had more experience in college, like Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr. They choose to go with Manziel, who has a high ceiling but very clearly was going to need more time to grow and development. They are now committed to that path.

"Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer are on the hot seat after losing 4-5 games straight"

Theory: As the season progressed, Pettine and the coaches showed an inability to adjust, and have lost the locker room. Farmer's initial quality draft has proven to be a lot wasted picks. Jimmy Haslam has an itchy trigger finger and demands immediate results.

Reality: Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine have a prototype for the players that they want. They will draft guys who physically meet the mold they are looking for: guys that are physically gifted, but will need development time. Almost every single pick of Ray's initial draft has this profile except for Joel Bitonio, one of the best rookie players in the league, and Chris Kirksey, who has excelled in his role.

1. Justin Gilbert has very little experience playing in a press-man style of defense.

2. Johnny Manziel's experience is well documented.

3. Terrance West played at an FCS school and is seeing a whole new level of competition and accountability.

4. Pierre Desir has very little experience playing in a press-man style of defense, AND played at a small school. Everything that holds true for Gilbert and West is doubled for Desir.

The Cleveland Browns entered 2014 knowing that there would be some very real learning curves for the drafted class, and entered training camp with an open mind and open competition for playing time among the rookies. Those that proved capable and willing to work and practice hard received the bulk of the playing time, and those that didn't are using 2014 to learn cold realities about the way the NFL works. It's disappointing to see these players have up and down seasons, but the book is still out on their capability. It's a gift that the Browns were successful this season without depending on immediate impacts from these players.

This situation should be considered a positive for Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer, not a detraction from their capability. For the first time in 16 years, accountability and hard work will be demanded of the players in Berea. The product on the field reflected the personality of this front office; players gave their all, kept their heads in the game until the final whistle, and mounted a hugely respectable amount of comeback victories. For 11 out of 16 games this season, it didn't feel like the same old Browns.

Unfortunately, this iteration of the Browns lacked consistent quarterback play (shocker) and was unable to establish the physical play in the trenches that can transcend an inconsistent passing game. Brian Hoyer lost his confidence and teams discovered how to fluster and frustrate him. Losing a pro bowl quality center was undoubtedly a big blow, but the critical blow to the 2014 Browns season was on the defensive line, where the Browns EASILY trotted out the worst collection of talent in the league this season after losing 3 starters are suffering major injuries to nearly every reasonable depth option. Even when healthy, the Browns 2015 defensive line was unlikely to be the force required for the aggressive defense Pettine and O'neil prefer. The engine that makes the Mike Pettine defense go is a product of the pressure generated by the front seven, and the Browns are unable to generate anything resembling a pass rush without creatively blitzing. Coupling this lack of pass rush with a complete inability to stop the run, and this team was doomed to failure, even with the best secondary in the 2014 NFL.

Ray Farmer's ability to find NFL capable players in undrafted free agency allowed the team to slowly develop the earlier draft picks without hurting the day to day performance of the team. They've used this year to identify where the current problems are, and will aggressively pursue fixing those issues. The real evaluation for this front office begins the moment the season ends, when they have a full off season of development for the players in house. They know now what they have, and can address it accordingly. The defensive front seven needs to have impact players for this team to function as it is designed.

Even the itchiest of trigger fingers can see the objective development and change in organizational culture that have permeated the Browns organization this year. Stranger things have happened in the NFL, but the likelihood of a coaching change or GM change for the Browns this year are somewhere in the "Tom Brady is traded to the Browns" level of rumors, and are best ignored.