Sunday, December 28, 2014

Another December To Not Remember

The last time a Cleveland Browns head coach went 0 for December, he was fired.  The December before that was essentially the same thing.  Given owner Jimmy Haslam’s brief but clear history, both head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer had to be wondering their fates as the Browns closed the season in that most familiar way.
Haslam quickly removed any uncertainty about two of his three direct reports by stating after the loss to the Baltimore Ravens that Pettine and Farmer would be back.  Now if Haslam could find a way to remove all of the other uncertainty surrounding this franchise then maybe he’d really be on to something.
Keeping Pettine and Farmer is a way to build continuity, which is something this franchise hasn’t tried in years so why not give it a try?
On the one hand, arguably the hand that matters most, the Browns ended the season with 7 wins, not great, but the most this team has had in the last 8 years.  It’s a bottom line business so in that sense the Browns have taken a pretty big step forward from where they ended last season.   
But yet someone has to be accountable for some pretty big issues pressing against the windows of Berea, to wit:
1.       The team completely unraveled offensively once Alex Mack went out for the season.

2.       First round draft pick Justin Gilbert was a complete bust who demonstrated little work ethic and virtually no feel for playing the position for which he was so highly touted.

3.       Ditto for first round draft pick Johnny Manziel whose lack of work ethic and discipline fully exposed Pettine to ridicule when he marched him out to start in place of struggling Brian Hoyer with the playoffs still technically in the picture.

4.       Josh Gordon still not entirely getting with the program despite spending most of the year away from it.
This is some pretty high level dysfunction, even for a franchise that has been so lost and confused it makes the New York Jets look like the New England Patriots.
Figuring out how to solve these and a myriad of other minor matters is further complicated by the way the organization is structured, with Haslam not just as its titular head but the one with the knife wielding power and little experience in how to use it except recklessly.
When Haslam took out Joe Banner and his Sicilian messenger boy, Mike Lombardi, last season, he didn’t quite elevate Ray Farmer to Banner’s former role.  He gave Farmer the title of general manager and control over the personnel but not of the coach.  Instead Pettine likewise reports to Haslam, putting Haslam in the unenviable position of arbitrating the question over whether Farmer’s lack of research on Gilbert and increasingly larger reach on Manziel and the inability to find an even faintly credible replacement for Mack is what doomed the team or it was Pettine’s abject inexperience at running a team on a day to day basis?
I know this, for all his square-jawed clear-eyed talk to the media, Pettine obviously wasn’t able to reach either Manziel or Gilbert in a way that resonated. Same with Gordon, though Pettine hardly had the chance.  I also know that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who reports to Pettine, couldn’t figure out how to overcome the loss of a decent center but certainly not Jim Otto in his prime.  Once Mack went down, the running game fell apart and opposing defenses exploited all the reasons Hoyer was a backup in the first place.
What’s difficult to figure in that truth though is where exactly does all the responsibility lie.  Pettine and Shanahan can make a rather forceful claim that they didn’t populate the team with two rookie running backs, including another work-ethic challenged player in Terrence West, and a free agent, Ben Tate, who wasn’t worth even a third of what they paid him.  Of course, Farmer could argue that in the context of hindsight perhaps Tate was just another player, like Manziel, like Gilbert, like Gordon, that Pettine couldn’t reach.
That all could be true and a big part of the problem, but then Farmer can’t so easily explain away the rest of the receiving corps.  This wasn’t a failure of schemes, but of talent.  Outside of Jordan Cameron, who was injured most of the season anyway, there wasn’t a credible receiver on the field until Gordon returned from his suspension.  Farmer claimed early on that the receivers he did sign (when he could have drafted some but stubbornly didn’t) were good, just unknown.  At season’s end, they’re still just unknowns.  Farmer also signed Miles Austin, as he did Tate, and it ended up being just more wasted money. 
The case for Farmer doesn’t get any better when you look on the defensive side of the ball.  Gilbert showed no work ethic from day one and carried it with him until season’s end, which ended not on Sunday but Saturday when he failed for the eleventymillionth time to make a meeting on time.  That’s a failure of research.  Somewhere in the 6 or 7 notebooks the team compiled on potential first round picks had to be a mention that Gilbert was a lazy, entitled n’er do well with no work ethic.  But maybe Farmer missed all that as he maneuvered around the draft, securing picks for 2015 while doing every other general manager in the league a favor by taking on Manziel.
Speaking of Manziel, his failures from an organizational standpoint are shared.  From a personal standpoint they’re his own.  Farmer knew Manziel was a high risk.  So did Pettine and yet all Pettine did from the first day of the offseason when Manziel eschewed any work in favor of every party was coddle Manziel in a way that even the casual fan knew wouldn’t end up well.  He constantly made excuses for why Manziel wasn’t working when he should have been and more or less gave him a public pass for being a public douche, with Manziel’s only fine known publicly is the one just issued for being late to treatment Saturday morning because of his hard partying Friday night, a party that kept many of his co-workers from being on time on Saturday as well.  This must be the new Johnny that Manziel spoke about earlier in the week.
Unless Haslam publicly admits that he ordered Pettine to start Manziel late in the season, the decision to do that is all Pettine’s and, again in the context of hindsight, was perhaps the single dumbest decision any head coach at any level has made.
It looked at the time, and I wrote at the time, that the decision made itself given Hoyer’s play.  That remains true.  But the wild card in all that is that only Pettine truly knew if Manziel was ready, or at least ready enough, to get behind center in an actual game.  We can only assume Pettine believed Manziel was ready and in the end that was such a colossal misjudgment that most coaches never get a second chance to make it.
It’s not just that Manziel was overwhelmed by the task.  That can come from a simple lack of appreciation of the gravity of the moment.  Manziel wasn’t even just overmatched.  That can be a talent gap.  Manziel couldn’t have looked any more lost than if Pettine had simply plucked a fan from the crowd and positioned him in the shotgun.  For an earlier generation, starting Manziel looked to be the equivalent of the literary joke that writer George Plimpton tried to play on the rest of the world when he suited up as a quarterback for the Detroit Lions in a preseason game for the book Paper Lion.
When Manziel scanned the defensive coverage he had the same looks of abject confusion and fear as does a father when he takes his teenage daughters to buy undergarments at Victoria’s Secret.  When the ball was snapped, Manziel acted as if he didn’t know where to look first or next.  And when he ran it was in the same way a scared Alfalfa ran in that Little Rascals episode where Alfalfa claimed to be a football hero he was not.
Whether Pettine couldn’t or didn’t see any of that coming is irrelevant.  He’s accountable either way.  Maybe because Pettine understands defense more he could see all of Gilbert’s shortcomings more clearly and benched him earlier.  Pettine should have seen the same thing with Manziel but didn’t and that is pretty damning when it comes to defending his cause.
So as another miserable season at the Factory of Sadness closes, the Browns look to be in pretty much the same place they started and not really any closer to being a credible playoff threat.  The owner remains impetuous and inexperienced, the head coach overmatched, the general manager isn’t as good as he thinks he is and there is almost no skill at any of the skill positions.   But rather than dwell on just those pesky negatives let’s just pause and take pity at least on the one true professional in the entire organization, Joe Thomas.  As good a player at his position as there’s ever been and yet destined to never play a meaningful game in December.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Johnny Fizzle

In the category of finding something positive to say about an absolutely dismal day at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday, there’s this:  Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel at least faced the media afterwards and answered their questions, owning the dismal moment.  After that, there’s nothing whatsoever that anyone anywhere could take from the pitiful display the Manziel and the Browns put on at home, losing 30-0 to a very average Cincinnati Bengals team.
Head coach Mike Pettine doesn’t much mince words and so we go again to him to succinctly summarize what fans saw on Sunday.  “Looked like a rookie, played like a rookie,” Pettine said.  Exactly.
The glass half full folks will acknowledge that it’s not as if Manziel went into the game with a fully loaded arsenal.  As just a small example, his pass to Andrew Hawkins that could have and should have been a first down on the Browns’ second series was on the money and inexplicably dropped.  Maybe a catch there would have sent a better tone but truthfully the glass half full folks are right.  Sending a rookie out with that kind of supporting cast in the NFL is going to be difficult for any quarterback.
As the season winds to a close, the same things that have plagued the Browns for 15 years now still plagues them.  There is no depth on this team.  When center Alex Mack went down, the offense essentially fell apart.   The running game stopped working and Brian Hoyer went from flash to flash in the pan.  It’s really confounding to ponder how important Mack is to this team.  And here I thought the Browns overpaid him in the offseason.  They didn’t pay him enough.

It’s not just Mack going down, either.  There’s no depth anywhere else, from receiver to tight end to the rest of the slots on the offensive line.  The NFL season is always an exercise in attrition and that’s never a contest this team with its holes can ever win. 
With due deference to ESPN blowhard Merrill Hoge, General manager Ray Farmer seems to be a relatively good judge of talent so perhaps he just needs a few more drafts and free agent signings to plug additional holes.  But right now, just as in seasons past, the Browns are not built to overcome any adversity.  A late season swoon isn’t a surprise.  It’s expected when the bulk of your starters would be back-ups nearly everywhere else.

But there is more, much more when talking about Sunday’s game.  Manziel, to no one’s surprise, looked woefully unprepared.  Sure, Manziel has been roaming the sidelines for 13 games with barely a whiff of playing time.  But that isn’t an excuse for his looking so lost.  The fear with Manziel and his casual approach to his craft is that if or when he was needed he wouldn’t be ready.  Manziel was needed.  He wasn’t ready.  Neither was the rest of the team.

You want evidence?  How about the fact that the Ryan Seymour, playing center, center for god’s sake, had a false start.  I’m actually uncertain how that’s even possible, yet it happened Sunday.  I’d say that was the low point but it felt more like a microcosm.
I suspect what’s really afoot is that Manziel’s game is so different and so undisciplined that it confounds not just coaches and fans and personnel directors, but the guys having to execute his half commands.  Consider not just the false start by Seymour but the litany of other false starts along with being flagged twice for having illegal receivers down field.  A third time the fullback, Ray Agnew, technically eligible was blocking downfield because he thought Manziel was going to run.  He didn’t.  The penalty was offensive pass interference but the infraction was the same as what caused the other illegal receivers downfield flags.

It wasn’t just a game where a team, otherwise prepared, simply came out flat.  It was a team that wasn’t prepared on any level, offense, defense or special teams.  Manziel looked out of place, despite his claim that he wasn’t overwhelmed, and his line looked confused.  The receivers were simply lost, unsure exactly what Manziel was going to do at any moment and lacking any semblance of concentration when balls did come their way.
But why just bury the offense?  The defense played its worst game of the season.  From the opening series to the “I quit” touchdown they gave up at the end of the game, the defense likewise looked unprepared.  It’s surprising, too, considering how it dominated the Bengals’ offense last time around.  Yet they had almost no answer for running back Jeremy Hill.  It wasn’t helped of course by the rather casual, arm only approach the defense took toward trying to bring him down.  But the larger point is that given how poorly Dalton performed the last time around, the Bengals best hope was a running attack and it’s as if nobody on the Browns’ side of the ball considered the possibility.

About the only thing that kept this game from being far worse, on the scoreboard anyway, was Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton.  Bengals fans are understandably worried about its team’s ability to do advance in the playoffs with Dalton leading the charge. In years past you could at least argue that Dalton was a decent regular season quarterback.  Now he’s not even that. 
But on this day, his play was almost an afterthought anyway.   All he really did was keep 30 points from being 45.  Big deal, the Browns’ offense only crossed the 50 yard line once and that ended with an interception in the end zone.

So now what?  Well, the playoffs are not in the picture, no matter how tightly fans cling to the thinnest threads, so the usual calculus of deciding which quarterback gives the team the best chance to win isn’t necessary.  Pettine said after the game, to the surprise of exactly no one, that Manziel is your starter next week (and the last, undoubtedly) and then heading into next year’s training camp, unless still another quarterback is signed or drafted.
The long view though is still the same as it was before the game on Sunday was even played.  Can Manziel be a viable NFL starter?  He can’t overcome his lack of height, but he can overcome his lack of work.  Manziel’s future in the league is completely tied to his willingness to learn certain truths about the NFL.

First, it’s the ultimate football stage.  Manziel could hide his weaknesses in college because the caliber of competition was so uneven. In the NFL, whatever your weaknesses are will be exposed, sooner rather than later.  If you don’t prepare, games like Sunday’s are the result.
Second, an undisciplined player is an unemployed player.  Manziel’s approach in college thrived on a lack of discipline.  What made him exciting was the fact that no one ever knew what he was going to do next.  That can and obviously did further his abbreviated college career.  The NFL is about precision.  Even its chaos is orchestrated.  Consider Manziel’s first interception.  It was the inevitable result of what happens when a quarterback throws late over the middle.  In college a defensive back with no chance of a pro career likely would have broken coverage by then.  It simply doesn’t happen that way in the NFL.

Third, these are grown men and not, as the Bengals’ Domato Peko said “little college kids.”  Raw talent isn’t enough.  Good coaching helps but the difference maker is the individual.  I hate to invoke the ghost of Mike Phipps here, but he floundered in the NFL, despite incredible talent, because he was lazy and undisciplined in his work habits.
The good news, again for the glass half full folks, is that this was only one game.  Manziel can take temporary comfort in the knowledge the most other rookie quarterbacks struggled early as well.  But if you really want to see the glass half full then maybe the best thing that happened was the abject disaster that was Manziel’s debut.  If it served as a wake up call or a little comeuppance for Johnny Fizzle, then the Browns and their fans will be well served in the long run.  In other words, for a season which will represent the high water mark for wins in the last several years, Browns fans are still left wondering when exactly it will be their turn to actually enjoy a season from start to finish.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Next Man Up, Again

One of the more spirited debates among NFL fans and within the NFL circle is whether or not a team needs a franchise quarterback or can be successful, indeed prosper, with a quarterback that is merely adequate.  So much of where you land in that debate depends on how you define franchise quarterback in the first place.
Except in Cleveland. 
In Cleveland, we land exactly where you’d think we would: confused but hopeful.  It’s not even that the Browns would settle for adequate.  Adequate is how a franchise quarterback is defined.
On Tuesday, the Cleveland Browns back-channeled an announcement and then front-channeled it with a quote from head coach Mike Pettine that Johnny Manziel, the new heir apparent savior, will start against the Cincinnati Bengals this week while Brian Hoyer licks the wounds of one head scratching interception after another.

Pettine’s quote didn’t make a lot of sense, but then again it’s not like he actually uttered the phrases.  When Pettine said in the team’s press release that the decision wasn’t about either Hoyer or Manziel, that didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  It came off exactly what it was, which was someone on the public relations staff trying to put a spin on the story that, what, would otherwise have been less frustrating, less maddening to Browns fans if they had known the truth?
The decision is all about both Hoyer and Manziel.  Hoyer has played like the career backup whose been left in the game too long.  He’s been amazingly consistent in the last few weeks in his inability to move the offense or complete passes to guys wearing the same jersey.  Maybe he went south when center Alex Mack went down.  Irrespective, he went south and one more start would only land him, finally, in the location where he’d been trending, Tierra Del Fuego.

Nobody, whether employed by the Browns or among those contributing to their salaries, needed to get any closer to that bottom.  The decision to start Manziel wasn’t controversial and didn’t need to be spun.  We all could go by what we saw.  So no need to spin.  Let the chips fall where they will.
With that, one of the larger questions now revolves around what really are or should be the expectations when it comes to Manziel.  Does he need to be a franchise quarterback or just merely adequate?  Is there really a difference?

Fran Tarkenton, in an interview with Jenny Vrentas of The Monday Morning Quarterback, noted the dual phenomenon of teams always seeking “the guy” but watching other teams, like Arizona, succeeding with “workman-like” quarterbacks.  Of course, Tarkenton defines a franchise quarterback narrowly, referencing the obvious examples of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  But the point is well considered.  There are few franchise quarterbacks anyway.  Teams can be successful with journeymen, as defined in the best sense of that word, and a really good defense.  After all, the playoffs feature 16 teams and as sure as anything else in the NFL, there aren’t 16 franchise quarterbacks in the league.
Which brings us back to the numbing sameness of the Browns and the never-ending odyssey to find a quarterback that, frankly, just fits in a category above mediocre.

Manziel isn’t just the next man up; he’s the 21st next man up for the Browns 2.0.  I’ll do the math for you.  That means the Browns have averaged 1.4 starting quarterbacks for each of the last 15 years, a number that’s already outrageous but is actually skewed by the fact that Tim Couch, the franchise poster child for mediocrity, started 59 games.  So yea, your eyes aren’t deceiving you.  Every year you can plan it, like the buzzards returning to Hinckley, that the Browns will have 2 and possibly more starting quarterbacks within the season.
So wither on to your next stop, Mr.Hoyer.  Thanks for signing the guest register and we hope you enjoyed your stay with your home town team.  There are some very lovely parting gifts for you on your way out of Berea for there’s no chance now that your next contract will be countersigned by some other team looking for a serviceable backup. 

Let’s pause, though, to appreciate Hoyer for a moment.  He truly does represent the grit of the city and its fans.  What he lacked in talent he made up for in work ethic.  A true pro, a real mensch.  But the league will expose your weaknesses much more quickly than your strengths and it’s as clear as anything that Hoyer’s weaknesses have been exposed.
Sure Hoyer could return before season’s end but it will be because of an injury to Manziel and not because there’s any point flipflopping him with Manziel.  Hoyer’s time here is over and with his contract expiring there’s no chance the Browns will bring him back unless it is clearly understood to be in a backup role, again, and at far less than he and his agent anticipated just a month ago.

The transition to Manziel is similar really to the one the Browns made more than a generation ago with Gary Danielson and Bernie Kosar.  It wasn’t questioned.  The time had arrived.
Whether Manziel can even follow the trajectory of Kosar, remains very uncertain.  The questions surrounding Manziel are the same when he entered the draft and the same as they were just a week ago.  Does he have the drive, the work ethic, the intellect, the commitment to be something special in a league that will tolerate almost anything except on field success?

It won’t take all that long to answer the questions.  To this point we’ve seen very little of Manziel.  We’ve heard plenty and virtually none of it surrounds the key issues that translate to on field success.   Manziel has tantalized, certainly, in the limited action he’s seen but you’d be foolish to go all in on him at the moment.
It would surprise exactly no one if Manziel put zero thought into starting, let alone any work in on Tuesday because it was Manziel’s day off.  Just a week ago he demonstrated that hanging with the bros is higher on his list of things to do on Tuesdays, even when your immediate future may be about to change.  Indeed, Manziel, from all appearances looks to possess the work ethic of a 14-year old.  There’s a reason why an old hand like left tackle Joe Thomas was very definitive with Pettine last week about starting Hoyer over Manziel.  Hoyer wasn’t playing well, everyone could see that.  But he was putting in the work, trying to get better and had a track record.  Clearly Thomas felt Manziel’s work ethic wasn’t quite the same and so recommended Hoyer to start that one last game because the team was still trying to make the playoffs.  Now, not so much.

I’d like to think that Manziel got the message from his blind side protector, but I doubt it mainly because no matter how many times the team has sent Manziel public messages (which probably pale in comparison to the number of private ones they’ve sent), Manziel has been obstinate in response.  He’s completely committed to the brand and persona of Johnny Football.  Whether that extends to actual performance is the great unknown.
Manziel actually can be what his talent suggests but he will not survive in the NFL on talent alone.  Few do.  Tom Brady only became Tom Brady through exceptionally hard work, year after year.  Same with Peyton Manning.  The problem for a guy like Manziel is that it doesn’t appear as if he’s ever known hard work.

It’s not just that he grew up with mostly a silver spoon from which to eat his Maypo but that’s part of it.  The bigger part though is the fact that he’s got such innate talent in the first place.  The gifted can be prone to falling back on that ability rather than work to develop it further.  The habits they develop in the interim don’t serve them well when talent is simply not enough.  Eventually they get bypassed by the less gifted but harder working.
Even at a big school like Texas A&M, or really any big time college program, it’s still true that the overwhelming majority of the players do not go on to any sort of professional career.  The truly talented can still outshine most everyone else.  In the NFL, that’s simply not the case.  Everyone in the league is comparably talented.  The difference maker is often the work that’s put in to rise above.

Will Manziel make that commitment?  Put it this way, the league is highly skeptical.  Otherwise Manziel doesn’t drop to the bottom of the draft the way he did.  To date Manziel’s response has been display of arrogance and indifference to the perceptions and opinions of anyone, not just the fans and the critics.  He carries himself with an attitude that smacks of immaturity, a sort of “he doesn’t yet even know what he doesn’t know. “
Come Sunday, that equation will start to change.  He’ll get an inkling of how little he knows as Bengals players just waiting to baptize him take their shots on his slight stature.  How he responds will be very telling, not just on Sunday but over the next few weeks and for the rest of his career.  And if past is prologue, and let’s hope not, sometime next September it will be time for the 22nd next man up.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Stirring the Pot in Cleveland

With the Cleveland Browns, nothing breeds impatience than a pot that just won’t boil.  So turn up the heat and something will find its way to the surface.
Here they sit, improbably at 7-5 and still very much on the cusp of a potential playoff spot, and find themselves in the middle of a quarterback controversy.  Some teams stumble into controversy.  Others have it thrust upon them by outsiders.  The Browns have an advanced degree of concocting their own.
When head coach Mike Pettine named Brian Hoyer his starter way back in the ancient days of training camp, most assumed it was only temporary anyway.  Hoyer always seemed to be one bad throw from having to give dad back the keys to the Pontiac.  Pettine claimed then that Hoyer had no cause to look over his shoulder and that seemed to be mostly true during the various peaks and valleys that is the arc of a true back up’s career.
But was it ever really true?  For the last month anyway Hoyer has been clinging to the fraying strands of his grip on the starter’s job with the only thing seeming to keep those strands from breaking was Pettine’s dogged determination not to have to deal with his hot mess of a backup, Johnny Manziel. If Hoyer didn’t see Pettine looking over his shoulder then he should get his peripheral vision checked.
Pettine’s comment after the win against Atlanta was the most telling.  He said that Hoyer had kept both teams in that game.  Indeed has a Cleveland coach in any sport offered such succinct and spot on assessment of one of its assets?  Still and despite what his eyes and heart and mind were telling him he couldn’t pull the plug on Hoyer heading into the Buffalo game.  The team was 7-4 and playing on the road against a team that played a previous “home” game several hundred miles away on a Monday night.  From that perch 8-4 looked like a fairly good bet and Hoyer despite everything still struck everyone as the better option.
What Pettine did do was what he could do.  When it became the only option left on the table Sunday as Hoyer looked as if he was an apparition sent to replay the performance from the previous week, step by exact step, Pettine turned to Manziel.
It worked, sort of, at least for a series.  But the crippling injuries on a team, indeed a franchise, known for its astounding lack of depth, were far harder to overcome than the equally mediocre Buffalo Bills and the Browns went down, losing in a way so reminiscent of past performances that it made you wonder what the odds in Vegas are right now on them finishing 7-9.
The decision to put in the mercurial Manziel was always fraught with the exact consequences currently playing out in Berea and about town.  Ostensibly it’s about which quarterback gives the team the best chance to win this week.  In reality it’s a far more complex question.
If, for example, general manager Ray Farmer, along with Pettine, more or less reasonably conclude that the chances of this team making the playoffs is small, sticking with Manziel is the more useful option.  Hoyer has a contract coming due at season’s end and as of right now he wants to be paid like the starter he was.  If Manziel succeeds as the starter than the Browns will have their answer on whether to try and re-sign Hoyer.  If Manziel fails, the hometown Hoyer remains a viable option, albeit an option with a little leverage he’d be wise to exercise.  If that’s what’s in Farmer’s and Pettine’s heads then it’s probably worth that gamble either way.
Even if Farmer and Pettine believe the playoffs are potentially in reach I’m not sure the calculus much changes.  Hoyer looks to be playing on whatever borrowed time a backup gets once the lightning in the bottle starts to dissipate.  More probably, defensive coordinators around the league are simply earning their pay and have snuffed out every last tendency of Hoyer’s and have instructed their charges accordingly.  That being the case, it’s also been just as clear that Hoyer right now doesn’t seem to have another gear or another trick.  So for Farmer and Pettine, going with Manziel now for much the same reasons as if the team isn’t playoff contenders still stands.
Yet there’s the cynical me, born of one spiritless and demoralizing season after another that feels there’s a much broader more sinister question that Farmer and Pettine are really trying to answer and that’s whether their growing concerns about Manziel are justified.
 If Manziel isn’t ready, with whom does such fault lie?  I know how Pettine and Farmer would answer the question if shot up first with sodium pentothal.  They put it squarely on the party-hearty Manziel’s rather narrow shoulders.  Manziel at the moment seems to have the work ethic of the typical 10th grader.  He may go through the reps and sit through the meetings but you always sense he has one eye on the clock, waiting for the bell to ring.  If he’s doing his homework that isn’t evident.
Travis Benjamin, talking almost recklessly to the media on Monday, let it out that Manziel sometimes has trouble with the terminology used to call the team’s plays and that the receivers have to correct him in the huddle.  Then there was the recent incident.  Forget every particular save one.  It occurred at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday, about 34 ½ hours before kickoff.  It isn’t just that nothing good ever happens at 2:30 a.m. on a weekend night.  It’s also that nothing good ever happens at 2:30 a.m. on a weekend night before a game for a player with aspirations to be the team’s leader.
I’m not saying that Manziel should have been back in his apartment studying the playbook, whatever merit that has for a guy that can’t remember the terminology.  I am saying that at the very least he should be home sleeping or at least home.  It does matter what people think, including Manziel’s teammates and right now, this late in the season, Manziel hasn’t seemed to learn a god damn thing about perception, reality and responsibility after the 28 missteps he’s taken just since signing with the Browns.
My real sense is that while Farmer and Pettine do want to see exactly what they have in Manziel because of the impact on whether to sign Hoyer, it has less to do with whether to re-sign Hoyer than it does with whetherr to move Manziel in the offseason. But the process to figuring that out is very public and what the Browns see will be seen by every other team that might otherwise be willing to part with draft picks to grab Manziel.
The risk then, the most likely reason really why Farmer and Pettine haven’t already named Manziel their starter for this week at least is that they are plussing and minusing the risk that Manziel will blow it and the ramifications that flow from that.  In other words, it would surprise exactly no one if Farmer in particular and perhaps Pettine are starting to get a more intimate understanding of why Manziel’s draft status dropped so precipitously in the first place.  That being the case, it makes some perverse sense to keep alive the mystique of Johnny Football than reveal that wannabe king is wearing no jock.
While I find this all so intriguing and fun, I’m more fascinated by the simple twists and turns of a franchise that treats success as the worst thing to happen since failure. 
By many measures this season has already been a success. Even if the team doesn’t win another game it still will have more victories than in all but 3 of the last 15 seasons.  They seem to have found a serviceable head coach in Pettine.  His mistakes tend to be of the rookie coach variety but his approach seems sound.  They have a top notch receiver and some nice complements around him.  Heck, Hoyer has played well in more games than almost any other Cleveland quarterback in the last 15 years.  The offensive line, at least with Alex Mack, was playing well.  The linebackers are having a good year.  In short, there’s reason for real down the road optimism, save perhaps for the long term prospects of Hoyer.
But this wouldn’t be Cleveland and it wouldn’t be the Browns if in the midst of it all some controversy didn’t develop.  In that sense the Johnny vs. Brian storyline in the midst of a playoff run is a healthy return to the team’s ignominious roots. It’s just that for all the progress made why does it still seem like the team is standing still?