Browns' Mike Pettine denies decision to start Johnny Manziel

By The Sports Xchange

BEREA, Ohio -- Only four games remain before a nightmarish season ends for the Cleveland Browns. Who will play quarterback in those contests is a mystery.

Austin Davis started in Cleveland's 37-3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, and though he did not play as poorly as the score reflects, coach Mike Pettine might still make the switch to Johnny Manziel for the home game against the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday.


An ESPN report Monday morning said the decision to switch to Manziel was already made, but in his press conference later in the day, Pettine said he hasn't chosen a starter.

"At this point I'm not prepared to name a starting quarterback for Sunday yet," Pettine said. "I've had preliminary discussions. I know there were reports out there as early as last night that had a decision being made. That's not the case.


"We've had preliminary talks and a couple meetings scheduled, but I haven't spoken to the quarterbacks yet. That's where we are with it."

Pettine said he expects to name a starter Tuesday.

The reason to stick with Davis for another week is he deserves another chance after playing against the Bengals with a diminished receiving corps. Four receivers -- Dwayne Bowe, Terrelle Pryor, Taylor Gabriel (concussion) and Andrew Hawkins (concussion) -- were inactive. Travis Benjamin (shoulder) and Marlon Moore (ribs) were injured during the game.

The reason for making the switch to Manziel now is Manziel served a two-game penance for lying to his coaches about how he spent his time on the bye last month. If the coaches want an assessment of Manziel, giving him four games as the starter is a fair measuring stick.

"It depends on how those games go," Pettine said. "We've got to be playing well around our quarterback. Four games, that's a quarter of a season. That's a good chunk of time. I think we already have a sense of where he is from a football standpoint, that he's done some good things and he showed progress from a year ago. That's been encouraging. We'll see how it plays out."


Davis, 3-5 as a starter with the St. Louis Rams, doesn't know whether he will get the chance to start against the 49ers. It is unknown this early in the week whether Gabriel or Hawkins might play, but at least whoever does start will have four receivers. Davis played most of Sunday's game with Brian Hartline and Darius Jennings as his only healthy receivers.

"It certainly wasn't part of the plan, but it's NFL football, and guys get hurt and the next man up has to be ready," Davis said. "I think that's the encouraging thing. All the guys that had to step into roles they weren't familiar with or didn't necessarily get the reps all week did a really good job, in my opinion.

"Obviously, the outcome of the game is not anywhere close to what we want, and I think we are better than what we showed. At the end of the day, you are only as good as the final score."

Davis completed 25 of 38 passes for 230 yards. He was sacked three times and threw an interception.


--PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The grade might seem lenient, but Austin Davis was hamstrung in his first start with the Browns because injuries limited him to two wide receivers -- Brian Hartline and rookie Darius Jennings -- for most of the game. Jennings was on the practice squad until being promoted Saturday, and he acquitted himself well with five catches. Protection problems were an issue again. Davis was sacked three times. He completed 25 of 38 passes for 230 yards with one interception.


--RUNNING OFFENSE: C-minus -- It is the same story week after week. The Browns fall behind, are forced to abandon the run, and then the opponent, this time the Bengals, tee off on the quarterback. Isaiah Crowell did break loose on a 23-yard run, which was encouraging, but rookie Duke Johnson managed a net 2 yards on five carries. The Browns are not sustaining their blocks as well as they did last season, and the backs are not running decisively.

--RUN DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Browns are improving at containing long runs. The Bengals amassed 144 yards on 33 carries. Their longest run was 27 yards by Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 98 yards on 22 carries. Cincinnati was able to break tackles, as most opponents have all season. At times, the Bengals went in motion before the snap and the Browns had no clue what to do. One of those plays resulted in a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Andy Dalton.

--PASS DEFENSE: D -- The secondary is depleted because cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert are nursing concussions. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green easily won his match his cornerback Tramon Williams. Green caught five passes for 128 yards. He had a 57-yard reception and a 23-yard touchdown catch with Williams on him both times. Williams was supposed to get assistance from a safety on the touchdown, but help did not arrive.


--SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The Browns had a field goal blocked for the second week in a row. The Cleveland offense doesn't click without a boost on returns, and with Bengals punter Kevin Huber punting only once, and that one being downed, there was no help there. Darius Jennings returned kicks for the first time and averaged only 22.4 yards a try.

COACHING: C-minus -- The Browns do not have as much talent as most teams, but there was some questionable clock management issues at the end of the first half, forcing Cleveland to settle for a field goal instead of trying to throw a pass in the end zone first. The Browns have never had a rhythm in their run offense, and part of the blame for that goes to offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

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