There is no question that Johnny Manziel played like a rookie against the Bengals on Sunday. The larger issue is that he exhibited none of the qualities needed to play the quarterback position in the NFL. As we pointed out last week, Manziel lacks the physical skills needed as well as the ability to play the game from a cerebral perspective. These deficiencies were on full display for 60 minutes against Cincinnati.
Manziel’s first interception was a play that perfectly exemplified all of the attributes he is lacking. This was a play-action max-protect pass with a simple post-cross route combination. After the play-action and at the top of his drop, Manziel peaked to the right because he perceived pressure.
There was none (and there were no routes to that side of the field). As you can see below, his receiver was wide open and running to a vacated area of the field. Manziel had room to deliver the ball, and he should have started his throwing motion right here:
Instead, Manziel took an additional hitch, moved to his left to buy time that he did not need, then delivered the ball late and off balanced.
The ball floated and was thrown inside, allowing cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick enough time to undercut the route and intercept the pass.
Quarterbacks need to be able to feel the pressure around them while maintaining a downfield focus. This is one major component of playing from the pocket. When they watch the rush instead, bad things happen. Manziel was over-reactive to pressure on this interception, and his lack of ability to feel the rush threw off the timing of the play. This was a simple read, and the Browns had a wide-open receiver.
Some quarterbacks can get away with throwing the ball downfield late. Manziel does not have the arm strength to do so. Some quarterbacks have the accuracy to make up for a lack of velocity on their throws. Manziel does not. This particular interception showed his inability to do so many things that an NFL quarterback needs to do.
Manziel’s 2nd interception was even worse. In addition to making a terrible decision late in the play, he didn’t take an easy completion early in the play. This was 3rd and 4, and Manziel had two open receivers on a slant-flat route combination. He could have picked his poison and kept the chains moving. Instead, he failed to plant his foot and deliver the ball on time, opting instead to drift back, run around to avoid the rush, and try to make a play outside of the structure of the offense. The results were not good for the Browns.
A few other things stand out from watching Johnny Football’s performance on film. Manziel does not have a smooth throwing motion. The ball doesn’t come out easily. He has to get his entire body into his passes, and the ball still doesn’t come out with much zip even when he does.
As we said last week, nothing stands out about Manziel physically. He is quick but not dynamic as a runner. He doesn’t have breakaway sprinter speed or the ability to explode out of cuts. He blends in with the defense when they are chasing after him.
The Browns simplified the offense out of necessity to try and make Manziel more comfortable. As we’ve stated, his play on film does not show an ability to read and react to coverage. Cleveland used basic route concepts and simple reads on Sunday (like the post-cross combination on his first interception). On one particular play in the 2nd half, the Browns used max protection and sent only 2 receivers into a route. The Bengals had 7 defenders in coverage. No one was open and the result was a sack. Simplifying the offense limited the Browns’ ability to move the ball effectively.
Late in the game, on a 1st and 20, Manziel scrambled for 10 yards. He had the opportunity to get 8 yards and either slide or get out of bounds. Instead, he lowered his right shoulder (throwing shoulder) into a linebacker. This was not a necessary risk. Getting 2 extra yards on 1st and 20 in the middle of the field during a blowout is not the formula for a healthy and long career, especially for a player as slight as Manziel.
Additionally, the Bengals did not throw a lot of complex looks at Manziel, instead playing mostly basic zone coverages. They did use some disguise, a few times showing blitz and then bailing at the snap, but nothing too complicated. Manziel still had trouble deciphering the defense. Towards the end of the game, the Bengals pinned their ears back and brought 2 all-out blitzes with no deep safeties. Manziel had the opportunity on one of these plays to plant his back foot and get rid of the ball for an easy conversion on 3rd down. Instead, he ran around and ended up throwing an incompletion.
There is nothing precise about Manziel’s game. Physically, he is a below-average quarterback, and he doesn’t do enough with the mental aspect of the game to make up for his deficiencies as a passer. Even as a runner, he is nowhere near as talented as the Wilsons, Newtons and Kaepernicks of the NFL. The Browns’ worst possible fears were confirmed on Sunday. Johnny Manziel doesn’t exhibit any of the attributes that it takes to be a successful NFL quarterback.