With a full season, two preseasons, and an absolute jolly stomping of the Ravens in game 1 of Season 2 (71-10 — and the score shouldn’t have even been that close), I wanted to add a little more about the passing game and the offense I run with Cleveland.
The new passing mechanics make it difficult for quarterbacks to play too far out of their comfort zone — which means deep balls for Johnny Football. He has a decent, but not great arm strength (89), and I’ve developed both his short and medium yardage accuracy to the point where he’s well above average at both of those (both 80+). His real value comes from his speed and toughness; one play, he broke a defensive lineman’s tackle and hit a tight end fifteen years down the field.
The secret to playing well with Manziel is the West Coast offense. That means relying on running the ball, and I’ve found Isaiah Crowell to be a great power back, behind a Cleveland offensive line that’s only gotten better with my #1 pick, a right tackle, and a surprisingly great blocking tight end that I drafted as a pass catcher (see below).
When I do throw the ball, I rely on slants (which are not the world beaters they used to be; DBs can and will jump the ball if you get complacent), crossing routes, curls, and the occasional screen pass. Corner post routes are great in man to man — you’ll always find a mismatch — but regular corner routes or double moves are still more or less broken because of how long they take to develop.
My biggest weapon is that I have not one, not two, but three amazing tight ends. I will actually pass out of goal line sets or singleback jumbo, which makes the computer weep if it blitzes. Antonio Gates is my starter, and we all know about him. Emmanuel Bibbs (you can read his real life scouting report here) was a TE that Cleveland signed as UDA before this season. He isn’t very fast, but his hands are amazing (80+), making him a reliable possession target. Rounding out the group is Neil Weatherford, the TE I drafted in the third round, is extremely fast (83 speed), strong (70+), a wonderful run blocker, and has hands that would make Shannon Sharpe weep. Weep because they suck. (This is why he was a third rounder). He’s also dumb as a post and a bad route runner. However, these are fixable flaws, and he’s such a top notch athlete that I think he’ll move very fast up the depth chart once those flaws are corrected.
When I do have to throw deep, I use my other secret weapon: Dwayne Bowe. He is tall and big, so when Manziel throws one of his dying quail “bombs,” Bowe will fight any DB for the ball, making some great hands-type catches. Josh Gordon is the superior athlete, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t hang onto the ball like Bowe. Gordon does have lower awareness, perhaps his greatest weakness, and doesn’t jump quite like Bowe. Still, Gordon could be as good as Bowe, if not much better.
The last secret weapon (the SUPER secret weapon) is Duke Johnson, who people that watched Cleveland play San Diego will admit is no real secret any more. Johnson is the fastest back on my team (90 speed) and has great hands (70+). Crowell might not be able to run sweeps or pitches, but Johnson can.
My offense does have one fatal flaw: if a team can stop me from running, especially if they can do it without blitzing, I’m in trouble. One thing my offense lacks is speed, which means that every deep ball is a jump ball. One-on-one, either Gordon or especially Bowe can and will fight for the ball, but if the defense gets safety help, Manziel doesn’t have the power to throw them open. It also takes away play action and bootlegs, both of which Manziel excels at. My new QB, who I took in the second round, is as good at Manziel in every passing category, but he lacks speed and can’t salvage a dead play. He’s a great system QB, and Clay shined in the preseason, but he would be even more doomed with a bad day running the ball.
My new kicker is really tremendous, both at kicking and because he is as white as I am yet wears Ricky Williams style dreadlocks. It never ceases to make me laugh.
Tomorrow, you can read about how I run my defense!