Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Manziel offers a unique task for the 49ers defense Sunday against the Browns

Johnny Manziel is an unknown quantity both on and off the field for Cleveland, offering the 49ers a unique challenge Sunday.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - When doing a photo search for Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, one of the first that shows up is a Cleveland fan at a home game holding a sign that reads, "Johnny drinks because we STINK!" summing up what's been another forgettable season in North-East Ohio.

Manziel has been in hot water with the Browns, owners of the NFL's worst record at 2-10, when he was relegated to third string from starter on Nov. 24 after a video hit social media of the brash former Texas A&M star surfaced with a bottle of champaign. Manziel, of course, went to rehab in the offseason to deal with issues relating to alcohol.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said Manziel must behave off the field, or else his standing with the organization might reach a breaking point, after he was named the starting quarterback this week.

"It would be hard for me to sit here and say, 'We have a zero-tolerance policy.' But if something were to occur, I could imagine that the repercussions would be harsh," Pettine told reporters in Cleveland this week, ahead of Sunday's game against the 49ers.

After winning the Heisman Trophy in 2012, the Browns took Manziel in the first round 22nd overall in the 2014 draft, as an attempt to solve their never-ending search for a franchise quarterback.

And it appears that search is continuing, with Cleveland wanting to find out if Manziel, 23, can be an option to start next season, much like the 49ers are trying to figure out with Blaine Gabbert.

However, their trajectories appear to be going in opposite directions, with Gabbert winning half of his four starts since taking over for Colin Kaepernick. Manziel's record as a starter is 1-4, with his lone victory coming against Tennessee in Week 2, owner of the NFL's second-worst record of 3-9.

Quarterback Josh McCown, who started started eight games this year, was placed on injured reserve last week after breaking his collarbone, forcing the Browns' hand with Manziel.

Manziel's last outing may have been one of his best as a pro. Against Pittsburgh Nov. 15, he completed 33 of 45 for 372 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But he was benched the next week when the Browns found out about the video that hit social media during the bye.

As Manziel represents a significant wild card off the field, that same characteristic translates to his play as a quarterback. With the sample still relatively limited, the steadily improving 49ers defense doesn't have a complete book on Manziel. The 49ers did well in their last two games against pocket quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler, but Manziel's ability to scramble offers a different dynamic.

"It can give you some fits," 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said Wednesday. "You don't want to chase ghosts. You want to be prepared...I think we all feel better when we have concrete facts on this and who this is and this is what they do and this is how we prepare."

Added outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, "He moves around the pocket pretty good. He’s kind of like Russell Wilson. He gives the receivers time to get open. We got to do a good job to try to get to him."

The 49ers struggled with Wilson in their two games this season. Combined, he completed 79 percent of his throws with four touchdowns and a passer rating of 115.01.

Manziel has a long way to go before he can be comparable to Wilson, beyond having a similar build and skill set. But his mobility offers a unique challenge, which the Browns have recognized.

"What makes him special is his ability to improvise and get out and make plays on the move. He’s already shown that more than a few times this year," Pettine said.

"What you just want to guard against is him pre-determining if he wants to do that. Or seeing ghosts and getting out of the pocket before he has to. I think you can get the best of both worlds with those types of quarterbacks if you train them to take what’s there and they do it. And then when the play breaks down, they go ahead and improvise."

With their overtime win Sunday in Chicago, the 49ers' first ictory away from Levi's Stadium this season, San Francisco is still technically alive in the playoff hunt. While the postseason remains extremely unlikely, another win in December will have the 49ers feeling good about the direction they're going.

To Tomsula, he thinks his team could build upon that success heading into 2016, should he remain the coach, which seems likely.

"I absolutely do," Tomsula said. "...I do think there's some merit to that. Yes, sir."

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. - When doing a photo search for Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, one of the first that shows up is a Cleveland fan at a home game holding a sign that reads, \"Johnny drinks because we STINK!\" summing up what's been another forgettable season in North-East Ohio.

Manziel has been in hot water with the Browns, owners of the NFL's worst record at 2-10, when he was relegated to third string from starter on Nov. 24 after a video hit social media of the brash former Texas A&M star surfaced with a bottle of champaign. Manziel, of course, went to rehab in the offseason to deal with issues relating to alcohol.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said Manziel must behave off the field, or else his standing with the organization might reach a breaking point, after he was named the starting quarterback this week.

\"It would be hard for me to sit here and say, 'We have a zero-tolerance policy.' But if something were to occur, I could imagine that the repercussions would be harsh,\" Pettine told reporters in Cleveland this week, ahead of Sunday's game against the 49ers.

After winning the Heisman Trophy in 2012, the Browns took Manziel in the first round 22nd overall in the 2014 draft, as an attempt to solve their never-ending search for a franchise quarterback.

And it appears that search is continuing, with Cleveland wanting to find out if Manziel, 23, can be an option to start next season, much like the 49ers are trying to figure out with Blaine Gabbert.

However, their trajectories appear to be going in opposite directions, with Gabbert winning half of his four starts since taking over for Colin Kaepernick. Manziel's record as a starter is 1-4, with his lone victory coming against Tennessee in Week 2, owner of the NFL's second-worst record of 3-9.

Quarterback Josh McCown, who started started eight games this year, was placed on injured reserve last week after breaking his collarbone, forcing the Browns' hand with Manziel.

Manziel's last outing may have been one of his best as a pro. Against Pittsburgh Nov. 15, he completed 33 of 45 for 372 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But he was benched the next week when the Browns found out about the video that hit social media during the bye.

As Manziel represents a significant wild card off the field, that same characteristic translates to his play as a quarterback. With the sample still relatively limited, the steadily improving 49ers defense doesn't have a complete book on Manziel. The 49ers did well in their last two games against pocket quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler, but Manziel's ability to scramble offers a different dynamic.

\"It can give you some fits,\" 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said Wednesday. \"You don't want to chase ghosts. You want to be prepared...I think we all feel better when we have concrete facts on this and who this is and this is what they do and this is how we prepare.\"

Added outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, \"He moves around the pocket pretty good. He’s kind of like Russell Wilson. He gives the receivers time to get open. We got to do a good job to try to get to him.\"

The 49ers struggled with Wilson in their two games this season. Combined, he completed 79 percent of his throws with four touchdowns and a passer rating of 115.01.

Manziel has a long way to go before he can be comparable to Wilson, beyond having a similar build and skill set. But his mobility offers a unique challenge, which the Browns have recognized.

\"What makes him special is his ability to improvise and get out and make plays on the move. He’s already shown that more than a few times this year,\" Pettine said.

\"What you just want to guard against is him pre-determining if he wants to do that. Or seeing ghosts and getting out of the pocket before he has to. I think you can get the best of both worlds with those types of quarterbacks if you train them to take what’s there and they do it. And then when the play breaks down, they go ahead and improvise.\"

With their overtime win Sunday in Chicago, the 49ers' first ictory away from Levi's Stadium this season, San Francisco is still technically alive in the playoff hunt. While the postseason remains extremely unlikely, another win in December will have the 49ers feeling good about the direction they're going.

To Tomsula, he thinks his team could build upon that success heading into 2016, should he remain the coach, which seems likely.

\"I absolutely do,\" Tomsula said. \"...I do think there's some merit to that. Yes, sir.\"

Follow @ChrisBiderman

E-mail Niners Digest: NinersDigest@gmail.com

Get updates from Niners Digest by following here and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and analysis.

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