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The Grey Area

After every Browns game, fans will rush to paint absolute faces on numerous facets of the game. DBN is here to help you determine where to find the middle ground. In most cases, the issues are not absolute.

I would make this face too.
I would make this face too.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Fan A: Johnny Manziel was the only spark of life for the Browns, and the team let him down.

FAN B: Johnny Manziel was trash and cost Cleveland the game. He looked like a raw rookie who made critical mistakes that led to 21 pts off of turnovers.

Johnny Manziel fits into a narrow category of historically troubled quarterbacks. Players who enter the year with 2 years (OR LESS) of starting experience have typically experienced tremendous difficulty finding success in the league. The other obvious elements of his college experience, such as the Air Raid offense he ran at Texas A+M and his maturity issues, served as further roadblocks in Manziel's ability to immediately produce at the NFL level.

Manziel is an exceptionally bright young mind and does have exceptional physical gifts, and both were on display in this relief appearance. Despite having the rust from a couple weeks of rest to shake off and a lack of chemistry with the first teamers, Manziel was decisive in his first action. His throws downfield were mostly on target, and he climbed the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield.

As the game progressed, Manziel's youth and inexperience showed. Rather than going through progressions in the passing game, Johnny took off from the pocket when he saw green ahead of him, and absorbed at least one solid hit and committed multiple turnovers. The All-22 tape from game one will be available shortly, and fans will see multiple chances that Manziel had to get the ball to play makers in space that he decided to run with. His running game galvanized the team in many aspects, but he failed to operate the offense and put himself consistently in dangerous situations.

The 2016 version of Manziel is likely to be a mixed bag of results. He will make electric plays, and a lot of rookie mistakes. He needs to continue the positive work he displayed in preseason by climbing the pocket, going through reads, and using his legs as a last resort. A lack of ball security will quickly move him back to the bench, and he knows it.

FAN A: The Browns offensive line is one of the best in the league, and should be able to impose it's will on good defenses.

FAN B: The Browns haven't been able to run the ball effectively since Eric Mangini was the coach, and they lack the physicality to be able to road grade defenders.

There is merit to the argument being made by Fan B. The Browns played smash-mouth football to start the 2014 season, but failed to execute on the ground for much of the remainder of the season. They struggled to run against defensive fronts that could bully them, and showed much more capability as a unit in pass blocking than run blocking.

None of that makes sense, though. The Browns are constructed as a line with a smart, athletic offensive front that can block in space, and features guards (Joel Bitonio and John Greco) that are very physical in the run game. It seems that consistency is the biggest issue the line faces, as one missed assignment in a zone blocking scheme will quickly lead to the wrong linebackers/lineman getting a free run into the backfield. In the end, the problems with the Browns inability to run is a combination of play calling, missed assignments, and a lack of consistency in the pass game that allows defensive fronts to focus on the run. The talent, as always, continues to exist in the Browns offensive line despite an incredibly poor showing versus the Jets.

The most salient point from the preseason remains: if the Browns can't impose their will in the running game, the offense will struggle to score more than 14 points a game.

FAN A: The Browns receivers and tight ends let down the team with an awful performance.

FAN B: Without a running game and a constant blitz, the Browns receivers were unable to find time to get into space and execute the offense.

I was very critical of the Browns tight ends as a group, and had some snarky things to say about the play of Gary Barnidge. The reality is that Big Gary only had one bad drop (in the immediate review of the game) and was generally very capable in the rest of his snaps. Jim Dray and Rob Housler will immediately want to forget this game ever happened. Bad blocking and bad drops characterized the entire game, and in an offense that relies on the tight ends to produce, EJ Bibbs will find himself with an opportunity VERY soon if Dray and Housler can't perform.

Kudos to Gary's Aunt, as always, for keeping me in line.

The Browns receivers did not shine in this game, but the tape will show that they were open (a lot) and were ignored. Brian Hartline bailed out Manziel with an incredible (top 10 worthy) catch from the ground, and Travis Benjamin absolutely smoked the cornerback en route to an easy 54-yard touchdown. Fan favorite Taylor Gabriel had a dreadful drop, and generally the entire unit did little to make life easier on Manziel.

FAN A: The Browns tight ends are trash.

FAN B: The Browns tight ends did exactly what the offense asked of them, minus a few drops.

Jim Dray and Rob Housler, man. They will be better, as Dray was a functionally capable in-line tight end for the 2014 season and Rob Housler is....

Well, it didn't take long for me to be done with the Rob Housler experience. FREE EJ BIBBS.

FAN A: The Browns are obligated to play Manziel and aid his development; he's not going to get any better on the bench.

FAN B: The Browns should go back to McCown and get back on plan and schedule, which has always been to sit Manziel until (at a minimum) the season is over.

This is an incredibly complex issue, and one that will feature a thousand words of spilled digital ink as the week progresses. I've maintained from the time that Manziel was drafted that he was going to need a lot of development time, and his off-season was cut short by arm fatigue issues and a trip to rehab. His knowledge of the play book is vastly improved, and that improved understanding was on display with the check at the line that led to his first NFL touchdown pass.

If Manziel understands the play calls and scheme, getting him comfortable with the speed of the game and executing the play book could prove to be greater for his development than watching it on film.

Unfortunately, when the pressure began arriving, Manziel stopped throwing into the blitz and started bailing from the pocket quickly. This exposed him to big hits and crushed the offense's ability to execute its game plan. Coaches will be reluctant to make designed runs a staple, given Manziel's size, so the ability of Manziel to develop WILL CONTINUE to revolve around his ability to make plays from the pocket.

If McCown is cleared quickly (IE, Monday or Tuesday) from the concussion protocol, I would expect him to make the start versus Tennessee. If he misses multiple days of practice, Manziel will get another opportunity to shine versus the Titans at home.

Items that did not make the list because they are not "Grey Areas"

1. The Run Defense: Trash.

2. Isaiah Crowell's running performance: Rough.

3. The "Lockdown on the Lake" performance of the "Best DB's in the league": Deplorable

4. The care and regard Josh McCown has for his own kidneys/health: Untenable

5. The remarkable way the Browns have of making Ryan Fitzpatrick look like an NFL quarterback: InspiringAfter every Browns game, fans will rush to paint absolute faces on numerous facets of the game. DBN is here to help you determine where to be ambivalent.