If Browns Have the Guts, Johnny Football Could Pay Huge Dividends

Johnny Manziel

There is something dangerous about Johnny Manziel, and that’s why we can’t wait to see him in the lineup for the Cleveland Browns.

If only Browns head coach Mike Pettine will make the right decision and insert Johnny Football into the lineup. Of course, is it really Pettine’s decision? Normally, the head coach determines who plays and who sits on the bench. But in the case of Manziel, it’s a little bit bigger than a first-year head coach who only got the job because every other candidate rejected the position.

This means that the decision could be in the hands of owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager Ray Farmer.

The Browns have a 7-5 record and still have a chance to make the playoffs as a Wild Card team or as the AFC North champions. One of the primary reasons for the success is that Brian Hoyer has been a solid leader at quarterback for the majority of the season. He directed the Browns to key wins earlier in the year over the Steelers and Bengals, and that earned him kudos from the coaching staff and Cleveland fans.

But as the season has reached the home stretch, Hoyer’s productivity has waned. He was miserable in the Browns’ 26-24 road victory over the Falcons – three interceptions – but he directed a final drive in the waning seconds that resulted in Billy Cundiff’s game-winning field goal.

Instead of capitalizing on that momentum Sunday against the Bills, Hoyer was once again a lost soul. He completed 18-of-30 passes for 192 yards, but none of them were for touchdowns and he threw two interceptions.

Pettine had seen enough of Hoyer’s struggles, and he tapped J. Football on the shoulder pads. Suddenly, everything got amped up because Manziel was getting his first chance to play competitive football in the NFL. He did not fail in his first game.

The Bills were dominating on defense and leading 20-3 when he came into the game in the fourth quarter, but Manziel came in with his trademark swagger and produced on his first drive.

A three-yard scramble, a 12-yard pass to Miles Austin and an 11-yard run by Isaiah Crowell got the Browns’ offense moving. Then, Johnny Football faded back in the pocket and saw Josh Gordon running towards the post and hit him with an 18-yard pass. Two plays later, Manziel saw tight end Jim Dray running towards the post and he delivered a pass that made it through traffic and went for a 24-yard gain.

It was the kind of play that only a confident quarterback could throw, because the coverage was tight. But Johnny Football never hesitated and suddenly the Browns were at the Buffalo 12. One play later, Manziel dropped back and then took off on a 10-yard TD jaunt. The Browns had life and trailed 20-10.

However, there would be no Johnny Miracle, as the Bills would respond with a couple of field goals to put the finishing touches on a 26-10 victory.

If the Browns were stumbling along with a 4-8 record, there is little doubt that they would turn the team over to Manziel. But they still have a lot to play for and the Browns have to figure if they are better off with the steady quarterback who has gotten them to this position, or they should push all-in and let the much-hyped rookie take over.

A decision to go with Manziel will brand Pettine – or whoever truly makes the decision – as a gambler. The Browns’ four-game home stretch includes the Colts and Bengals at home followed by season-ending road games against the Panthers and Ravens. There’s no reason why they can’t be competitive in all of them and go 3-1 or 4-0 if they play their best football.

But to play their best game, they need a charge. Playing it safe with Hoyer will not give them the juju they need.

Remember, this is the Browns we are talking about. They have had double-digit losses for six straight years, and the current version of the team has been to the playoffs once since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999.

More often than not, the Browns have been as fulfilling as weak tea. No pizazz, no excitement. Manziel gives them the adrenaline surge that has been missing since Bernie Kosar was throwing TD passes in the late 1980s and the Browns were getting their hearts broken by John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

This team has a chance to turn the page and make a statement by going with Johnny the Kid. It may not be a smooth ride, but it will be an exciting one and the football world will be paying rapt attention.

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Steve Silverman
Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who spent 10 years as senior editor at Pro Football Weekly and he has also written for the Wall Street Journal, ESPN Magazine, MSNBC, and NFL.com. Silverman currently covers all sports – including the NFL – for CBS New York and Bleacher Report.