No Johnny Football?
That Browns head coach Mike Pettine announced Wednesday he would stick with Hoyer as his starter when the Colts (8-4) visit Cleveland (7-5) Sunday makes for headlines and TV soundbites because of all the hype surrounding Manziel.
But before hearing a word from Colts head coach Chuck Pagano or his players, I knew this was Football 101. Always expect the unexpected.
That’s why you never ask a coach if he was surprised by anything strategic. Even if he was, he can’t admit it, because that means he didn’t do his job very well. That’s especially true in the NFL, where assistants comb hours of film to gain the slightest advantage on each opponent.
So if Pettine would have been coy about his quarterback choice, and not shared his plan to go with the guy who is 10-5 as his starter in two seasons as opposed to a rookie yet to make his first NFL start, the Colts would have prepared the same.
I’ve read and heard from some who think playing Hoyer is somehow in the Colts’ favor because he has struggled so much lately. True, he’s looked awful. But that’s also how most rookie quarterbacks play in their first NFL start. Or at the very least, they make enough mistakes to lose.
If Manziel gets into this game because Hoyer continues to struggle — and make no mistake that could be the case — he’s going to see a blitzing 3-4 defense that is quicker and smarter than anything faced in college. And running around making plays with his legs will only take him so far.
We’ve seen that for years in the NFL, haven’t we? Last week, I spotted Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on the bench for the Colts’ 49-27 win at Lucas Oil Stadium. Yeah, he’s been hurt in his three years. That’s because professional football players eventually catch up to you, no matter how fast or elusive a running quarterback can be. Take enough hits, regardless of the position, and bodies are human. They break.
But back to the dubious history of rookie quarterbacks making their first NFL starts. Let’s go back to John Elway for the Denver Broncos in 1983. He made his debut at Pittsburgh and lasted one half. He completed one pass in eight attempts for 14 yards, threw one interception and was sacked four times before exiting with a bruised right elbow. Steve DeBerg rallied the Broncos to a 14-10 win.
Fast forward to someone we know well here in Indianapolis. Peyton Manning made his debut in the 1998 season opener against the Miami Dolphins at the RCA Dome. He completed 21-of-37 passes for 302 yards with one TD, decent numbers, but he also threw three interceptions and was sacked four times in a 24-15 loss.
How about the Colts’ Andrew Luck? He made his 2012 debut at Chicago and completed 23-of-45 passes for 309 yards and one touchdown, but was intercepted three times, sacked three times and lost one fumble. The Bears won 41-21.
I was at Soldier Field for that one. Luck’s talent was undeniable, but so was his inexperience. He played his heart out, but it wasn’t nearly good enough.
Some will say that’s a small sample size to cite a Hall of Famer in Elway, a future Hall of Famer in Manning and one of the NFL’s rising stars in Luck, but you get my point. Manziel entered the league with a lot of pub, but he was selected 23rd overall in the first round, with the pick the Colts gave up to acquire Trent Richardson. Yeah, sorry for the reminder.
He wasn’t a No. 1 overall pick like those other three.
Johnny Football will get his shot at some point. He’s expected to be the Browns’ future at quarterback. If it’s not now, he’ll get his first start soon enough.
Don’t get caught up in all the hype. Don’t forget that the NFL has a history of rude initiations.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.