Browns Preseason Game 1: Manziel, Hoyer and the Offense

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As everyone that watched the Browns first preseason game knows, it had a familiar feel to 2013 and many years since the Browns came back to Cleveland. They couldn’t get the ball in the endzone. I am not ready to pass judgement on the team yet and say the same trend will carry over to the regular season. Here are some observations on the quarterback battle and other parts of the offense.

  • Playcalling: I was a bit concerned with the heavy weight towards the number of pass plays called compared to run plays. Although I can’t get an exact number due to certain things like pre-snap penalties, these are the numbers I counted. For 3 drives with Hoyer in the game, there were 17 pass plays and 8 run plays. For Manziel’s 4 drives, we had 14 pass plays and 9 run plays. I am hoping this is due to the QB competition and not what we can expect during the regular season. With our defense, we need to run the ball more.
  • Brian Hoyer: Overall I thought Hoyer played very well for his first game back from ACL surgery. Yes he made a few mistakes early, but he didn’t seem to do anything to lose his starting job. He moved the offense and if he can cleanup his mistakes he should be ready. Some things of note:
    1. On his first drive, it started to look like Hoyer hadn’t missed a step. He made some good throws, but the drive stalled after an overthrow to Josh Gordon with his weight on his back foot and a failed rollout pass on the very next play. On this play, he had a relatively clean pocket, albeit collapsing, to step up and to his left to either run with the ball or pass it for the first. Instead, he rolled out to his right where the play had next to no chance of succeeding.
    2. The rest of his game was solid. He made a perfect play action pass to Josh Gordon for 22 yards, and the rollout pass to Miles Austin that was unfortunately dropped on the 5 yard line could be watched over and over again due to how beautiful it looked. I think if Austin comes down with that, the Browns punch it in the endzone.
  • Johnny Manziel: Let me start by saying that our 2nd string offensive line is not very good. Manziel had to deal with backups at the skilled positions as well the entire game. Despite these things, Manziel’s pro debut was mostly positive and it gives me hope moving forward. Some things of note:
    1. On 3rd and 1 on his first drive, a read option play was called. Just like he did in college time and time again, Manziel keeps the ball. The average observer (and I guess our color guy on NBC) might say that the DE crashed, which means you keep the ball so Johnny did the right thing. WRONG. On that play, the read is on the weak side linebacker who slow-played his blitz until he knew Manziel was keeping the ball. Either way though, Johnny was likely expecting Barnidge to not whiff on the defender and if he didn’t block air, the play would have been successful. In this case though, a handoff to West would have been a better decision as he could have ran just outside the left tackle for a first down. The next 2 read option plays were executed perfectly and resulted in big plays.
    2. I am not putting this all on Manziel because he might not be completely comfortable with audibles at this point, but on 2nd and 2 with Detroit showing 8 in the box looking to stop the run, the play wasn’t changed and West ran up the middle for a loss of 3.
    3. Manziel looked smooth off play action. His first attempt was a bullet in a perfect spot to Gabriel. Almost all other plays off of play action were positive resulting in either a completed pass or a QB scramble.
    4. Manziel’s 16 yard run was very impressive, but not because of the run itself. What was impressive to me were his progressions. He looked left to option 1, right to options 2 and 3, and then came back to option 1 for a brief second before taking off up the middle. Although there appeared to be a guy open about 16 yards down field, it was likely a dangerous pass. The run was the safe play with the blitzer closing in. Speaking of Manziel’s runs, he did a nice job sliding or getting out of bounds to avoid contact.
    5. Manziel’s only other notable mistake minus a couple errant throws was his scramble and run on 4th and 1. The fullback was wide open about 10 yards down field for a touch pass. Instead, he barely got past the 1st down marker.
  • Terrence West and Ben Tate: The jump cuts, the quick decisions and physical play of our running backs seems obvious. We have a legit 1-2 punch there. Neither guy dances around and they get up the field as soon as the hole presents itself. West’s numbers (ypc) didn’t end up great, but he had the joy of running behind the backup O-line and the lack of a couple audibles/blocking adjustments from Manziel.
  • MarQueis Gray: I can’t prove this on this blog, but before the game started, I told a friend of mine that Gray is going to be a big weapon on this offense as long as he blocks well. This will keep him on the field. The real gem comes in the passing game. So often do you see teams blow coverage on the FB because the majority of them can’t make big plays (or sometimes any play at all) in the passing game. Gray can. If Gordon doesn’t get suspended for the season, look out. Cameron, Gordon and Gray are matchup nightmares for any defense.
  • Starting Offensive Line: The line now looks like a completed product. Last year our pass blocking was solid and our run blocking was terrible. This year they have everything probably in large part due to the zone blocking scheme. It seems to fit our personnel well. If they aren’t one of the best groups if not the best in the NFL I will be shocked.