Cleveland Browns: Let Johnny Manziel Sit

Here is the predominant take on the Cleveland Browns' 2015 season: "The team should start Johnny Manziel because they need to find out what they have in him. It's not like they're going to make the playoffs, so what's it hurt? And the worst they are, the higher they can get a quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft."

That about sums it up, right? It's the #1 reason fans and the sports-talk media give for wanting Pettine to name Manziel the starter. Of course, head coach Mike Pettine did not name Manziel the starter, instead, going back to the veteran Josh McCown. 

I like the decision. A lot of people did not.

And to be fair, I get what those fans are saying, and I think it is a compelling argument. I just don't think it's the right one.

Let's start with the team. Everyone would lose their minds - rightfully so - if Mike Pettine came out and said that the team has no chance this season. Is that the kind of coach we want? One who, going into Week 3 with the team 1-1, thinks they should just give up on the season and use it as a 14-week tryout for Manziel?

How can we even expect a head coach to think that? Of course he knows it's an uphill battle. That's why he talks about taking everything one week at a time. If this team is going to make the playoffs, they're going to have to claw their way there because they don't have the natural talent to get in any other way. That's how a head coach in Pettine's position has to think, needs to think. He's not going to concede the season after two games.

Nor should he.

You and I may smirk at any idea of them making the playoffs, But we can do that. We're fans. Other than the minimal effect we have going to games and screaming like idiots, our impact is nonexistent. But we want players who believe they can make it, coaches who believe that they can make it. We don't one guys who just shrug and say it doesn't matter.

How do you nurture a winning culture by telling the players that you're starting a guy because you need to see what you have in him? How do you expect players to ever listen to their coach again? What kind of evaluators does this team have if they don't know how good he is despite seeing him every day in practice?

I don't want those kind of guys leading this team. Do you?

Now, let's look at the player. Johnny Manziel seems to be a better quarterback now than he was at the end of last season. But, folks, that's not saying much. He was abysmal last season. It looked like someone had been called down from the stands to play quarterback. He had no understanding of the offense, and seemed to start ad-libbing the moment the ball touched his hands.

It doesn't take much to outshine that dud.

I liked what I saw from him in the game against the Tennessee Titans. A long touchdown; a nice 50 yard drive; and that roll out, where he set his feet and threw a nice pass to streaking Travis Benjamin. I think the progress is evident.

I just don't think he's ready. And I think the risk of finding out in Week 3 is just too much.

If he's made this kind of progress, give him more time to develop further before you stick him out there. He looks good so far, but needs to cement those lessons. He has practiced his craft, seen how things looked in real time, and can now go back and work on what he and the coaches think makes him stronger.

But that's not the only reason some have for wanting to see Manziel instead of McCown. While the "Tryout" is the #1 reason fans give for wanting him to play, the #2 reason is that they think he's better than McCown. And I can't argue against that. He probably is. But there's no way we can know that.

The Johnny camp got upset that he was being judged poorly after only 11 quarters last season, yet they want to anoint him after only 7 quarters this season. They're judging McCown by his entire career, but only judging Manziel by one game. (Certainly the Jets game wasn't inspiring.)

So what if we judged both quarterbacks by their career stats?

Manziel has a completion percentage of 52.7. McCown's percentage is 58.8. McCown has thrown only 2 more TDs than interceptions, but Manziel is dead even. McCown's career quarterback rating is 76.2; Manziel's is 72.4.

Sticking with career stats, some people say that they want to see Manziel because he throws it down the field versus McCown's dink-and-dunk. McCown's net yards gained per pass attempt is 5.54. Manziel does beat him....but only by 8 inches. (5.79)

What about rushing? McCown's yards per attempt is 4.8. Manziel's is a yard less, 3.8. "Okay, but McCown got a lot of those yards as a young guy. He's 36 now and has slowed considerably." Actually, he had his second best season average of his career last season, gaining 7.7 yards per attempt. That's 3.2 yards per attempt more than Johnny's 4.5 in 2014. McCown has been sacked less per attempt.

Manziel does lead in some statistical categories, but not by much. So there's no evidence to say that Manziel is so much better than McCown is.

Where Johnny really blasts past McCown is upside. We know who McCown is: A guy just good enough to remain in the league for eleven season, and grab a couple of starter roles, but not good enough to hang on anywhere.

Johnny could become a really good quarterback. He may not make anyone forget Brett Favre, but he could become anything better than Andy Dalton. Maybe. And you know what? Cincinnati makes the playoffs. They've made it 5 of the last 6 seasons, as a matter of fact. Meanwhile, Cleveland hasn't even been .500 in that time.

I know some people are anxious; heck, I'm anxious. But I think the best thing they can do for the future of this team is let Johnny sit a while longer. Let him get in all the practice he can. Will he sit the whole year? Probably not. It's safe to say that there's a good chance McCown is going to be bad enough that you can't run him out there with Manziel sitting on the bench.  

That will be the right time to start Johnny Manziel, and that will be the right reason. Doing it in the third game of the season just because the fans are curious is not. 
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