The game plan for Johnny Football
Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel got off to a rocky start last week in his first NFL start – a 30-0 loss to Cincinnati. The former Heisman Trophy winner completed 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Manziel was sacked three times and finished with a Jimmy Clausen-like passer rating of 27.3. The Panthers plan to disguise their coverages and vary their pressures to try to confuse Manziel, who admits he was hesitant in the pocket against the Bengals. At Texas A&M, Manziel was at his best when improvising and keeping plays alive with his legs. The Panthers’ defensive ends can’t lose contain.
Which Cam will show up?
Cam Newton looked like he’d finally broken out of a prolonged slump with his most complete game of the season at New Orleans. But two days after the win vs. the Saints, Newton was being loaded into an ambulance after wrecking his truck in a two-vehicle accident. Newton appears to have recovered from the two fractures in his lower back. But whether he can rediscover his rhythm after the layoff remains to be seen. Protecting Newton will be paramount for a line that will start the same combination for the fourth game in a row. But offensive coordinator Mike Shula has to at least give the appearance of using Newton in the zone-read package to keep the Browns from loading the box.
The ball-hawking Browns secondary
When he’s struggling, Newton has a tendency to overthrow receivers. Those throws could easily become interceptions against Cleveland, which leads the NFL with 20 picks and is third with 27 takeaways. Free safety Tashaun Gipson, who is tied for the league lead with six interceptions, will miss his fourth consecutive game with a knee injury. Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden is questionable after injuring his shoulder last week trying to pick off an Andy Dalton pass. But the Browns have other play-makers in the secondary, including CB Buster Skrine (four INTs). Newton can’t afford to force throws, and his receivers can’t have passes caroming off their hands.