After several years of struggling, things are definitely looking up for the Cleveland Browns. Much excitement has been brought to the franchise by the presence of Johnny Manziel while the rest of the league debates how things will turn out for Mr. Football. But the Browns have been verbally steadfast in their approach to their potential quarterback controversy by largely not acknowledging it. Nonetheless the Bengals will need to be prepared for either quarterback come November 6th, when the teams first meet, as a lot can change in a small amount of time in the NFL.
Upon arriving at training camp, Johnny Football’s antics have settled down and teammates have “lauded” his study habits. He certainly has the talent to be an NFL quarterback and possibly a good one at that. After his first preseason game, I must admit I was impressed with what I saw, albeit against second-stringers, but there’s little wrong with that considering he is a rookie. He made some plays with his feet, something we knew he could do, and was intelligent enough to get out of bounds or slide in order to avoid any serious hits; clearly he understands that his speed in college simply won’t translate in the NFL. He didn’t seem to run at inappropriate times giving himself opportunities to make throws from the pocket. If there’s anything fans must realize he’s clearly an intelligent and calculated football player. He sees the big picture and understands the formula he’ll need to follow if he is to find success in the NFL. This was the aspect of Manziel’s first game that impressed me the most. He obviously has a long road ahead of him, but understanding what he’ll need to do in this league versus college was a positive step that several other good college quarterbacks have been unable to recognize in the past.
Naturally the Bengals will have much more footage and time to study either potential starting quarterback before the teams meet,
but their approach to each will be different. Brian Hoyer is a savvy veteran who had the opportunity to learn under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady early in his career. After spending brief stints with a couple of teams, Hoyer signed a two-year deal with the Browns presumably to be their backup. Hoyer was given the chance to start after Brandon Weeden continued to struggle and Hoyer took full advantage; Bengal fans are keenly aware of this after the Browns beat the Bengals convincingly in week four of last year. Hoyer seems to understand his role within the team and plays within these parameters effectively. A quality game manager, Hoyer makes good protection calls, can make quality throws, and is best when playing within himself while the team relies on its defense to carry them to wins. Hoyer also brings veteran leadership at a time when the team is going through a bit of an overhaul within its coaching ranks. This can help stabilize an offense that may struggle anyway due to the potential yearlong loss of All-Pro Josh Gordon and the addition of an entirely new backfield. Hoyer isn’t going to be a star in the NFL, but he’s certainly intelligent enough to make the necessary plays and enable this team to win games.
The Bengals should be able to handle Hoyer despite what happened last year. Hoyer isn’t a threat with his feet, so the Bengals will have many more options when choosing how to blitz against the Browns stout offensive line. Regardless of the quarterback, the Browns will most likely rely on their upgraded running game while missing Gordon’s presence. They still have Jordan Cameron who caused all types of problems for the Bengals in the past, but with Emmanuel Lamur healthy, Taylor Mays’ experience at the nickel backer role, and the addition of players such as Marquis Flowers, a converted linebacker from a safety role, the Bengals should be better prepared for Cameron this year. The Browns’ running backs will enjoy excellent blocking, but the Bengals are built to handle any running game they face. As long as the Bengals limit the effectiveness of the Browns running game, hence limiting Hoyer’s ability to play off of its effectiveness, beating him shouldn’t be the tallest task.
Preparing for Johnny Manziel may be the more realistic scenario come November. I understand the Browns want to take it slow
with “Rookie Football,” but he simply provides a more dynamic weapon for an offense that may struggle this year. Manziel is a threat with his feet, even considering the reduced effectiveness of his speed in the NFL. He’s capable of running for first downs and extending plays allowing him time to improvise with his receivers, which will be important as the Browns lack depth within their receiving corps. Because Manziel is clearly the more dynamic weapon at quarterback within an offense that lacks many weapons, I have to assume he’ll be the starter come November. The line in front of him may negate Hoyer’s pre-snap reads as the Browns possess All-Pros LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack along with some promising young linemen. Blocking for Manziel may be a bit different considering his athletic ability, but if Manziel continues to stay committed to throwing from the pocket and only scrambling when absolutely necessary, this line should be able to handle to job and create a situation where the Browns are better off playing Manziel.
Assuming this, the Bengals will need to pass-rush cohesively as containing Manziel may prove to be equally important compared to actually converting a sack. New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wants to blitz more this year and has done well designing them in the past, so I’m sure he’ll have fun plotting something special for Manziel and his athletic ability. The Bengals also possess a faster and more dynamic linebacking corps this year. Vontaze Burfict will be relentless and fierce in his approach to any exposed Manziel while speedsters such as Lamur, Marquis Flowers and Taylor Mays will all be able to close in on Manziel quickly. Awareness is the key for the Bengals’ defense against such a weapon and the Bengals have been dealing with a similar weapon in Ben Rothelisberger for years, who is clearly harder to bring down. It remains to be seen how effective Manziel will be when throwing, especially in cold weather as I’m not sure how much experience he has with this coming from Texas and the SEC, but considering the Bengals stout defensive backfield, I hardly imagine they’ll have a problem containing this part of his game. In either phase of the game, the Bengals third ranked defense is well prepared.
2014 will be an exciting year in the AFC North. Each team has improved and the competitiveness should remain high like every year. When it comes to the Browns vs. Bengals match-ups, I’ll be expecting to see Manziel under center. I’ll also be expecting the Bengals to set the tone within this relationship, which may last for the foreseeable future.