Johnny Manziel’s second-half struggles shouldn’t send him to bench


That’s the way Johnny Manziel described his second half of Thursday night’s 31-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback started the night by telling the NFL Network that this game couldn’t be as bad as last year’s in Cincinnati, when he threw for 80 yards in a 30-0 loss.

By game’s end, and after a strong first half, Manziel said the second half was “eerily familiar” to his painful rookie debut as a starter.

How the Browns proceed might depend on which half they assign more weight. Manziel was his scampering best in the first half Thursday night, as several times he avoided pressure to leave the pocket and make a big throw. Sixty-three of the Browns’ 92 yards on their only touchdown drive came on Manziel making a throw after leaving the pocket — including the TD to Duke Johnson.

But in the second half, the Bengals abandoned the blitz, rushed with four and concentrated on not letting Manziel escape. He became nearly ineffective, completing 4 of 15 for 40 yards. He was sacked three times (and saw three passes dropped).

The Browns, as a team, had two first downs in the second half and 32 total yards. Both of the first downs came in the final three minutes, when the Bengals had their 21-point lead.

Manziel looked like an NFL quarterback, then he didn’t. He confirmed he can make plays with his feet and throw on the run, but he has yet to show he can consistently play from the pocket. At almost any point in a quarterback’s career, he has to make plays from the pocket.

The Browns might have to adjust the offense to take advantage of Manziel’s mobility, though his big plays in the first half did not come on designed rollouts. They came on his improvisation. Teams can’t rely on a player completing passes only when he scrambles.

That Manziel has room to grow shouldn’t be surprising, though. Not given the non-NFL system he ran in college, and not given his limited playing time in two seasons in the league.

What do the Browns do going forward, assuming Josh McCown is healthy and Manziel is not disciplined for his part in the domestic/driving incident on Oct. 12?

Coach Mike Pettine was noncommittal, saying the team would assess when players return next week after taking this weekend off. Pettine faced a similar decision after the second game of the season, a victory over Tennessee in which Manziel started. Pettine went with McCown in Week 3.

At this point, though, there are many reasons to stick with Manziel.

The Browns (2-7) are not going to win seven in a row to make the playoffs.

The team knows what it has in McCown.

It needs to know what it has in Manziel — either so it can count on him for the future or so the Browns can focus their offseason efforts on finding a quarterback.

Manziel needs to play to get better.

The only way to truly assess him is to put him in the lineup for an extended amount of time and see what he can do.

Either the eerily familiar becomes commonplace, or Manziel sets a new standard for himself.

Either way, the Browns are better off.