Lessons from Saturday: Manziel shows poise in NFL debut

Save those “Money Manziel” pantomimes for next week.

Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel may have not led his team into the end zone in Saturday night’s 13-12 loss against the Lions at Ford Field, but he did display attributes of a confident, accurate and decisive playmaker.

Manziel, who will reportedly make his first Browns start next week on Monday Night Football against the Redskins, piloted four drives, setting up the Browns in scoring position twice.

"I think we did some things that we can get better at," Manziel said, via the team’s transcript. "I think we need to continue to get better in the red zone. We have to capitalize on some of those drives, but overall, obviously, you want to win coming out of it, but you have to start somewhere.”

Playing behind the Browns’ second-team offensive line, Manziel looked his finest when he was on the move.

Facing a third-and-8 in the third quarter, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan dialed up a quarterback draw. Given some space in a spread formation, Manziel powered past a defender’s outstretched arm and sprinted into Lions’ territory before sliding to cap a 16-yard scamper.

Later in the series, Manziel zipped a pass to his left to third-year wide receiver Charles Johnson on a bubble screen, who zigged and zagged his way a yard short of converting a treacherous third-and-16.

Manziel’s greatest criticism of the night came next on a fourth-and-1.

Rolling out to his right on a bootleg, Manziel opted to keep the ball himself and sprint for the first down opposed to throwing to fullback Ray Agnew, who was wide open in the flat. Manziel, though, was able to safely exit, coasting out of bounds. The drive, however, was short-circuited as running back Dion Lewis fumbled on a routine carry up the middle.

Despite a leaky offensive line and shoddy wide receiver play, Manziel completed 7 of 11 passes for 63 yards. He also managed to lead the team in rushing with six carries for 27 yards.

At one point, Manziel threw a perfectly-timed strike over the middle to wide receiver Jonathan Krause, who wasn’t even looking for the ball.

Most impressively, though, the six-foot, 210-pound quarterback was able to rifle passes inside the pocket. Oftentimes working out of the pistol, Manziel followed his progressions and showed off his arm strength, which talent evaluators frequently noted during this past year’s draft process.

Spending the first 23 minutes of the game engaged on the sideline, Manziel watched his counterpart Brian Hoyer pilot the offense.

Hoyer, who got to work with the first team, didn’t show any major signs of discomfort as he is just 10 months removed from ACL surgery. Hoyer did however sail two of his passes over his targets, one in which was destined for wide receiver Josh Gordon’s 6-foot-3 frame. Hoyer connected on 6 of 14 passes for 92 yards.

"They both did some good things and they both did some things that more suited their skill set," head coach Mike Pettine said following the game. "I think Brian (Hoyer) was high on a couple throws and I think he would want them back. He threw a couple other nice balls in there, and then I thought Johnny (Manziel) did some nice things from the pocket. When he got out, he created a little bit as well. So I think it’s good learning tape for them"

A key difference on the field between the two quarterbacks was Shanahan unveiled a read-option package, tailored exclusively for Manziel.

While the Browns’ quarterback competition continues to unfold, Manziel and Hoyer will continue to be analyzed on everything.

It was a night for the rookies

Three months after selecting defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick, the Texans got a humbling reminder of how they ended up with the worst record in the NFL a season ago.

Clowney, who appeared in his first game as an outside linebacker, was very active disrupting Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer’s timing offense. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound pass rusher, though, couldn’t prevent the Cardinals from steamrolling the Texans 32-0 in the desert.

At times, Clowney was lined up alongside J.J. Watt, which accounted for an all-out quarterback assault. Watt, who got to the quarterback with a sack, only appeared for a short period.

Cardinals rookie wide receiver John Brown showed flashes of brilliance, hauling in five receptions for 87 yards. The Pittsburg State product appears to be a seamless fit in head coach Bruce Arians’ offense.

G-Men run through Steel Curtain

Giants running back Rashad Jennings hit the gas when he saw a crease open and accelerated into the end zone on a 73-yard touchdown on the first play of the Giants’ offensive series.

Jennings, who signed a four-year deal with New York this offseason, led the team in rushing with 85 yards.

Quarterback Eli Manning saw limited play in a 20-16 win against the Steelers. Appearing in four series, Manning didn’t complete either of his two passing attempts.

Steelers rookie Dri Archer, owner of the fastest time in the 40-yard dash (4.26) from the 2014 NFL Draft class, showed burst and body control on a 46-yard bubble screen in the first quarter. Garnering carries out of the backfield and some action in the punt return game, the diminutive running back has become one of the reasons for optimism in Pittsburgh this preseason.

Rain drowns out action in Tennessee

Any hopes to see Ken Whisenhunt’s quarterback-whispering techniques in action were thrown out the window as a torrential downpour made its way to Tennessee.

After re-wiring Philip Rivers’ mechanics and putting the Chargers veteran quarterback in a short, quick passing game a year ago, the Titans new head coach has been tasked with doing the same with Jake Locker.

Locker, who is in a make-or-break season in Tennessee, saw only one quarter of action against the Packers. After bobbling a snap, which he recovered, Locker completed just 1 of 2 passes for 5 yards. The Titans, though, were able to hold onto the 20-16 victory.

Extremely sloppy play made the decision easy for both head coaches to seat valuable players. 

Green Bay, without quarterback Aaron Rodgers or running back Eddie Lacy, was able to muster up some offense by the fine ground game of James Starks. A 20-yard sprint up the sideline allowed Starks to finish with six carries for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Titans rookie running back Bishop Sankey got a plate full of work, but averaged just 2.8 yards on 13 carries.