Game 14 Review: Cincinnati

Opening Statement: What a difference a week makes.  It never ceases to amaze me how the consenus can shift and holding an opinion– without changing it– can take you from one side of the spectrum to the other.

A week ago, the following paragraphs marked me as one of Johnny Football’s biggest detractors:

I can see the Browns winning by two touchdowns if Johnny Football can either make better decisions or keep his rabbits foot turned up to 11. I can see then losing by 3-4 TDs if the Bengals have a good day and Johnny Football forces stuff.

I’m gonna guess Bengals 30-17 because it would be unusual for a rookie QB to win in his first start– and I don’t expect Johnny Football to thrive against a team that plays disciplined defense. I’m guessing at least 10 points come off mistakes.

But a guy who throws the dice on every play could hit a couple of 10’s the hard way… and I’d give the Browns a 30% chance of belting the Bengals 31-7.

To recap… I gave the Browns a a 70% chance of losing– 35% by roughly 2 TDs (the 30-17 prediction) and 35% chances of losing by 3-4 (if the Bengals have a good day and forces stuff).

That projection was child’s play. Most rookie quarterbacks lose their first start. Most get beaten decisively or killed. Most play badly– very badly, in fact.

Bernie Kosar went 8-19, with a TD and an INT, in his first start. The Browns won because (a) the defense held Houston to 6 points and (b) Bernie threw three bombs to Clarence Weathers, for 146 of his 208 yards,  Other than those three passes, it was 5-16 for 62 yards and an INT.

Brian Sipe had a wonderful first start (16-23 for 186 yards, a TD and a score), but that 90.1 day ( a 36-35 loss to San Diego) was followed by:

  • A 75.2 rating in a 21-14 win over New England,
  • A 26-16 loss to Pittsburgh and a 26,7 rating,
  • A 67.5 outing in a 15-10 loss to Buffalo
  • A 46.7 performance in a 7-0 win against San Francisco

My opinion about Johnny Football has not changed.

  • I have never believed he would be a successful quarterback, because he takes too many foolish chances. Unless it’s the last play of the half, a good player doesn’t try to make a play where the odds are stacked against him.
  • I’ve never thought he would do the work needed to become a topnotch player.
  • I would not have drafted him in the first round, much less have traded an additional #3 to move up to take him.

But unless he is the worst draft pick ever– or his off-the-field antics get him removed from the lineup (like Ryan Lead)– he will have better games than this.  Rookies always do.

I thought the performance of the offense was bad. The kicking teams were worse. And the performance of the defense was truly appalling.

But those units were sheer perfection compared to the bilge shoveled out by the morons in the national and local media. Not all the stories quoted are bad– most are hideous.

If you work as a pollster– or a stock analyst– a marketing or strategy consultant– or a project manager– you are required to make predictions. There are follow-up meetings where you are held to account for them. If you make mistakes, there are consequences– both for your employer and for you.

Make enough wrong guesses– suggest enough bad ideas– and they stop listening to you. And eventually you get fired.

Unless you’re a sportswriter or broadcaster. Or, in most cases, a sports blogger. Then you get to say whatever you want one week– castigating the team and demanding that it make a series of moves you deem necessary. No– make that self-evident, if not blindingly obvious to anyone except a drooling imbecile.

And the following week, after your recommendations blow up, you blast the team for taking your advice… not acknowledging any culpability for it.

But the most offensive part of the performance?

Mike Garafolo: “And no play illustrated that more than when Manziel tried to throw a leaping floater over the middle of the field that was picked off by the Cincinnati Bengals’ Adam Jones.”

Pete Prisco: “Manziel was 10 of 18 for 80 yards and two picks, and it looked worse than that. Manziel’s mechanics were horrible. That led to balls floating. It just didn’t look good.”

Don Banks, Sports Illistrated’s top analyst: “At times, Manziel simply did not pass the eyeball test… [it was] the kind of throw you’d expect to see from someone playing a pick-up game in the backyard. His body language wasn’t great either, and a shot of him laughing along with Hoyer on the sideline late in the blowout probably won’t help tamp down the issues some have with his maturity level.”

Peter Queen (SI’s gossip columnist): “[B]ut if you didn’t see Mike Pettine’s postgame press conference, and you want to get really depressed, give it a look. “

Bleacher Report: “Manziel looks like a less athletic Tim Tebow and a less accurate JaMarcus Russell. That is not an overreaction. That isn’t hyperbole. That is the eye test.”

Excuse me all to hell, but could you write a little less about what you saw, and a little more about what happened? It was a bad game– there aren’t going to be too many 30-0 losses where you say “Damn, did the losing team looked good.” A quarterback has a 27.3 game rating, you don’t have to explain that he looked overmatched or uncomfortable. In the 40+ years I’ve been watching the NFL, I’ve never seen a guy with a game rating below 50 where he looked like a good day.

Writing that the receivers were either (a) open all day and he didn’t hit them or (b) covered like blankets adds to my understanding. Listing the number of drops– or saying that the receivers never came back to give Johnny Football a target on his scrambles– fills in the blanks.

Pointing out (as John Clayton of ESPN did the number of blitzes (two) or mentioning the number of sacks, pressures or hits (I counted 11) is valuable– it informs you that the line did poorly.

Mentioning that the Browns committed 5 offensive penalties– three of them false starts– suggests the team was disorganized. As does reporting that they had the ball when the two-minute warning was called– and then came out and were so bumfuzzled that they had to call a timeout (something even Pat Shurmur never managed) tells me something.

But if I watched the frigging game, the last thing I need to know is the opinion you formed based on what you saw. If you can’t give me information, don’t waste my time.

There were some people who acquitted themselves well, passing on information and not overreaction. Merrill Hoge of ESPN went way over the top, but he earned that right. He has been saying, for over a year, that Johnny Football had first-round hype and sixth-round talent. He simply repeated his opinion, with his usual quiet dignity and grace.

Most of the rest were disgraceful to differing degrees; the best you can do is ignore them. Questions?

Do you think the Browns set Manziel up to fail?

{PAUSE} Yes, I do. I think they all bet on Cincinnati and then tried to make sure the Bengals beat the spread.

Can you possibly rephrase that question in a substantive, non-tinfoil hat format– something that doesn’t make you sound like you have a traumatic brain injury?

Were you satisfied with the gameplan?

Oh, that. We’re channeling Tony Grossi, who thinks every loss was due to the playcalling.

Explain to me, in precise detail, exactly what was wrong with it.

It didn’t seem to take advantage of what he could do.

Your statement is unacceptable nonsense. Do it properly. Here’s a link to the gamebook. It contains the play-by-play. I want you to go through it, play by play, and tell me:

1. Which of the calls you found unacceptable. Please separate the plays that (a) were called by Kyle Shanahan and run as directed and (b) the plays Johnny Football changed at the line of scrimmage, in response to what he was seeing. For all the plays in Group B, tell me the pass coverage the Bengals were showing and the rushes they were showing.

2. Why your alternative would have been better. Diagram the defense, identify the play– I’ll give you a link to the playbook the Houston Texans used when Shanahan was their coordinator, to help you– and tell me why your play was superior.

Make sure that the players needed to run your alternative were on the field– don’t tell me you want a three-receiver set if there are two backs and two tight ends on the field.

Are you serious?

Absolutely. If you want your opinion taken seriously– not condescended to and sneered at– document your hypothesis for me. Explain what you would have done differently and why.

I’ll even make it easy on you. Just do it for Cleveland’s first 10 offensive plays. That’s all we need to discuss– by the time the Browns ran play #11, they were down 20-0 and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

OK, you’re being ridiculous.

No, I’m just requiring you to defend an argument constructed of unprocessed organic fertilizer before I pay attention to it.

I’m not going to–

Because you can’t. Just like the four mental midgets who filed stories trying to blame their miscalculation about Johnny Football on someone besides themselves.

Let’s go through Cleveland’s first ten offensive plays– Cincinnati’s first four drives and Cleveland’s first three:

Drive 1 (Bengals): They take the kickoff and run a 14-play,81-yard drive (that;s an average of 5.8 yards per play). It eats up 7:070– nearly half the quarter– and ends up with a TD, giving Cincinnati a 7-0 lad.

Nobody plays well on this drive but the two eyesores are the #1 picks in the last two drafts.  Meowkevious Mingo roughs the passer on an incomplete pass on 3rd and 6. Instead of the Bengals punting from their 47, they have a first down at the Cleveland 38.

On 3rd & 7 from the 19, QB Andy Dalton hits RB Giovanni Bernard for 14 yards, giving the Bengals a first down at the 5. Justin Gilbert pops him (unnecessary roughness), moving it inside the 3.  Not as bad as Mingo, but it just cut the defensive stand possibility in half.


Now just so we understand, the team who scores first usually win. The Win Probability Calculator in the play-by-play at Pro Football Reference says the Bengals have a 68.6% chance of winning.

The kickoff goes five yards into the end zone, where Marlon Moore, another star performer on Chris Tabor’s miserable kicking teams, decided to run it out. He gets tackled at the 17.

Johnny Football is not only behind, he’s starting in the opponent’s red zone. What play would you call?

You’re really being a jerk.

No, I’m just rubbing your jerkishness in your face.

Drive #2 (Browns): Play #1  (remember, the Browns are on the 17) is a run by Terrance West, from the shotgun. He gains 6 yards.

Are we good on that play? {PAUSE} OK, you’re going to pout.

Play #2: Another run by West, also from the shotgun– this time for two yards. Maybe not the play I’d call, but consider the situation:

  • It’s 3rd & 2, so you have short yardage,
  • You’ve run twice and the Bengals have to at least consider the possibility that you will run for the first down.
  • .You’ve set up the play-action pass, or the bootleg or whatever.

Play #3:  The Browns elect to pass, but the Bengals have everyone covered , so Johnny Football scrambles. He gets one yard.


Spencer Lanning punts 59 yards, outkicking his coverage; Brandon Tate returns the punt 17 yards… but it’s a net gain fo 47 yards, so we’ll live with that.


Drive #3 (Bengals): They run a 9-play, 46-yard drive (again, over 5 yards a play), which runs 3:39 off and ends with a field goal.

Cincinnati now leads 10-0. The odds that they will win the game are now 77.8%


The Bengals kick the ball three yards into the end zone; again the Browns decide to run it out. This time Taylor Gabriel justifies the gamble, getting the ball out to the 23.


Drive #4 (Browns): All three of these plays are being run from the shotgun.

Play #4: Cleveland runs a dink pass to TE Poke Cameron, which gets four yards. Not a well-designed play, I thought, but we have seen receivers run with those.

Play #5: This is a terrible play. I had no idea what was going on with it, Johnny Football ended up running, and he got stuffed for -7 yards.

Play #6: It’s third & 13, so everyone knows they’re passing. The ball goes toward Andrew Hawkins— it isn’t thrown well. enough for me to say “is thrown to”. As was often true during the day, Johnny Football’s pass was high.


Lanning outkicks his coverage again– and this time it burns him. Tate runs the ball back 30 yards, turning a 51-yard punt into a 21-yarder.

But wait– there’s more. Coverage guy Johnson Bademosi runs out of bounds (all the way out, not just a toe on the chalk) , runs back in and makes contact with a Bengal. That’s a 5-yard penalty, putting the ball at the Cleveland 36 and making it a 16-yard gain. 


Drive #5 (Bengals): The Bengals run 5 plays– one incomplete pass and four runs by Jeremy Hill. He gets all 36 yards and the score.

That’s 7.2 yards a play, in case you’re keeping track.

The drive lasts 1:57, taking the game into the second quarter and making the score 17-0. The Bengals now have a 92.% probability of winning.


The Bengals kick the ball into the end zone again– and again the Browns run it out, getting fewer yards than they would have by taking a touchback.

This time Travis Benjamin gets the ball to the Cleveland 13.


Drive #6 (Browns): Play #7: A 10-yard pass to Cameron gets called back because C Ryan Seymour crosses the line of scrimmage before Johnny Football throws the ball.

That’s obviously a good play and terrible execution. The Browns lose 5 yards. moving back to their 8

Play #8: Isaiah Crowell gets his first carry of the game, traveling 4 yards. You can consider this a bad play, because it travels almost nowhere and the Browns are down 17-0.

But if you give up on the run, you’ve taken both West and Benjamin out of the game– early in the second quarter– and the Bengals can just go all out on Johnny Football

Also, it’s the 8-yard line. Whaddya wanna do– a double-reverese?

Play #9: Johnny Football tries to hit Puff Gordon. It’s not a well-thrown pass; he doesn’t run very well. But they scare the daylights out of corner Leon Hall, who gets called at the 18 for illegal use of hands. First down.

Play 10: Crowell runs again, for two yards.

But before you get all freaky, the ball is on the 18-yard line. Most teams call their safest plays inside their own 20. And they wouldn’t be inside their 20 if Benjamin hadn’t tried to run the ball out of the end zone and failed to reach the 20.

Play 11: On 2nd & 8 from the 20-yard line, Johnny Football throws his first pick– a miserable toss to Hawkins that violates every rule in the book:

  • It’s thrown off his back foot, making it hard for him to throw it hard.
  • It’s thrown across his body, weakening it even more.
  • It travels all the way across the field, giving the defense time to react.

You can argue that Hawkins should have done more to fight for the ball– he is just standing there. But the replay suggests that he was frozen by incredulity– that he couldn’t believe his quarterback would try to make that throw.

Dre Kirkpatrick intercepts it and returns it only 2 yards.


Drive #7 (Bengals): The Cleveland defense finally stiffens, but the ball is far too close to the goal line to prevent points. The Bengals gain 7 yards in three plays and kick a field goal to go up 20-0, with 10:24 left in the second quarter.


And that’s the end of the game. A rookie quarterback making his first NFL start doesn’t bring a team back from a three-touchdown hole. Not against a playoff team that blew a big lead the week before.

The following 40 minutes mean nothing. They just give us a a chance to evaluate Johnny Football, in less-than ideal conditions.

He does not do well, but there is nothing he can do.

I didn’t expect you to defend everyone.

I’m not defending him. It was a terrible performance. But it’s not as bad as Brandon Weeden’s first start, where he posted a memorable 5.1 rating, going 12-35 for 118 yards and 4 INTs.

Brady Quinn had a good first game (104.3 rating), but his next game was 55.3 and the next one was 21.3.

Tim Couch was far and away the best, given the amount of talent he had to work with. But his rating for the year was 73.9, with 15 TDs and 13 INTs.

I’m just not saying “OMG– Worst QB EVER!!!!! Turk him not– fire Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine!!!! SQUEEEEE!!!!”

He’s a rookie. Because he played only two years of college ball, he’s only 22. He was playing a good opponent. All of these things are reasons why I said there was a 70% chance the Browns would lose– and a 35% chance they’d get stomped, with errors by Johnny Football resulting in 10 points. He cost them only 3.

Shouldn’t they have tried to adapt the offense to him?

Exactly what did you want them to do? Not run the ball with West and Crowell (four of the 11 plays)? Not throw to Hawkins (3 plays), Gordon (1) or Cameron (1)? He ran the ball twice on 11 plays, and threw 5 passes.

Also, this is a no-win situation. Had Johnny Football run all sorts of fancy plays and screwed it up, people would have said “What was Kyle Shanahan thinking? How can you put all the responsibility for the win on teh 22-year-old making his first start? Why not run more? Why not use Puff Gordon and Poke Cameron– the two Pro Bowl receivers– to stretch the field?”

There was no way the Browns could lose, and not to get second-guessed about the quarterback.Even in a game where the defense gave up points on the first four possessions– and the kicking teams gave the Bengals’ offense extra yards and let their own offense start inside the 20 two out of three times– they still got fragged.

I’m willing to cut the kid one mulligan. Everyone should be.

What happens if he does this again?

If he makes the same mistakes again, that’s when you go into Merrill Hoge-Bernie Kosar mode. Then it’s a problem.

But I’d like to see that happen before I assume it.

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