In the days leading up to Manziel’s first NFL start, the rookie quarterback displayed some positives in practice sessions, as well as missing many opportunities in what was a scaled back Cleveland offensive scheme.
The Thursday prior to the Cincinnati game, Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil predicted the Cincinnati defense would apply up-field pressure on the edges to contain Manziel within the pocket, forcing the quarterback to make plays within the pocket,
In a lighter practice session that day, the Browns defense gave the offense this look, but due to the lack of hitting in the session, the full effect of the philosophy wasn’t fully grasped by the rookie quarterback.
But, the philosophy was something Manziel had experienced before. While at Texas A&M, LSU played a very similar scheme and effectively contained the explosive Manziel and Aggies offense.
The Cincinnati Bengals would later acknowledge the viewed the film of Manziel’s game against LSU and utilized numerous facets of the defensive scheme from their film study.
Upon his hire by the Browns, the expectation was to develop the roster and win games while doing so. Pettine isn’t the type of man not willing to give his full effort, as losing hasn’t been an acceptable concept for the first-time NFL head coach.
In the hours leading up to the game, Pettine and those close to him within the coaching staff were uncertain what to expect from their rookie quarterback.
According to accounts to theOBR, Shanahan told Pettine that he readied Manziel as well as he could to carry out the game-plan and the play-calling would be structured so the quarterback would gain some comfort, in this his first NFL start.
Others within the ranks of the Browns note anonymously to theOBR that Shanahan was skeptical of Manziel’s readiness due to working closely with the quarterback in the days leading up to the game.
Following a lengthy Cincinnati touchdown scoring drive to open the game, the Browns with Manziel under center, would get their opportunity to shine.
Shanahan kept the first series simple for Manziel and the Cleveland offense. Two rushes were followed by a read for Manziel to make a throw out of the bunch formation. If the look wasn’t there, Manziel had the option to run. Manziel’s inexperience and impatience led to the rookie quarterback running for a minimal gain.
Three plays and a punt later, the Browns defense again wilted to the Cincinnati offense and the setting was set for a long day at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Throughout the game the Cincinnati defensive ends and outside linebackers played up-field edge containment, just as Pettine and O’Neil believed could occur prior to the game.
The Cincinnati game was one which the NFL believes a member of the Browns front office, believed to be Farmer had texted discontent with the play-calling.
Some authoritative figures within the front office were becoming increasingly indifferent on Shanahan as the season progressed, leaving the former offensive coordinator in an increasingly difficult position.
Prior to the Cincinnati game, there had been speculation that the front office had reservations about the development of the rookie quarterback, as well as the offensive structure and direction. Quietly, the Browns front office heard quarterback coach Dowell Loggains and Shanahan weren’t entirely on the same page, though the working relationship was deemed serviceable.
Loggains was in the dog-house early in the spring and summer due to his discussing in-house Browns business (the Manziel draft disclosure) to media following the draft.
Loggains had survived one controversy during the draft when he exposed that Manziel had texted him asking for the Browns to come and get him in the draft and that Loggains had relayed the message to Haslam.
Despite Haslam’s recent claim that Loggains’ accounts of the draft-day were mot accurate, theOBR has been told Manziel did reach out to the former QB coach, in which the message from Manziel was forwarded to the Browns front office and owner.
Loggains was immediately responsible for working with and developing the quarterbacks, with Manziel gaining focus as the ‘future’. As the season progressed, Manziel displayed inconsistent traits in study and on-field actions, despite appearing to be work at his craft. Much of the issue which was being relayed as immaturity and learning how to perform in a structured setting.
During the Cincinnati game and in the days to follow, discussion about the embarrassing loss and apparent un-readiness of Manziel took center stage within the Browns organization. The front office questioned the play-calling once again and openly wanted to know how the player could be so ill-prepared.
Again, theOBR had been told that the front office placed ‘some’ blame on Shanahan. The front office was being provided information, correct or not on what had been transpiring within the staff, the offensive coordinator and on the playing field.
Farmer and Pettine discussed at length the Cincinnati game debacle and came away from the meeting set to start Manziel the following week against the Carolina Panthers.
Manziel’s week of practice was better than the previous week, but the rookie QB continued to make mistakes calling the plays and recognizing defenses in practice sessions. Players were apprehensive, confidence waivered but Shanahan had devised a game-plan to utilize Manziel’s talents heading into Carolina.
As he did against Cincinnati and in practice throughout the week, Manziel missed on some reads, had issues with the language of plays and depth/cadence on numerous rushing plays. Despite the issues, the Browns were in the game against the Panthers and Manziel had gained some rhythm – before being planted on quarterback keeper into the turf at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina and lost for the remainder of the season with a hamstring injury.
Despite the injury, some within the Browns organization believe Manziel’s season was over before he ever took the field.
(Next up: Brian Hoyer and where/when the offense went wrong)