A little late to the party on this, but Johnny Manziel started his first game in the NFL this last week. I should mention up front that I think he’s probably going to make a terrible pro, on account of he’s fairly short and doesn’t have a great arm. Moreover — and seriously, why does no one ever talk about this next part — he was propped up by the people around him at Texas A&M, most notably his offensive line (Luke Joeckel went 2nd overall in 2013; Jake Matthews 6th overall in 2014) and the skill positions (capable backup RB Christine Michael went in the 2nd round in 2013, and WR Mike Evans went 7th overall in 2014). Seriously, how do people not remember how much talent was on those teams beyond Manziel? A great college QB is usually enough to alleviate most of your team’s issues at other positions (see: Vick, Michael) — but Manziel, even with what was around him, never got Texas A&M even to an SEC championship game. To me, that suggests a player that is propped up by his system and by the talent around him.
All of that being said: can we stop pretending like the results of ONE GAME are a harbinger of things to come? Why does the NFL, of all leagues, tend to overreact so severely to results from small sample sizes?
Case in point: This article from the usually reliable Dan Wetzel. Dan Wetzel seems like a cool guy: he’s done yeoman’s work to expose NCAA corruption and even wrote Death to the BCS as part of his pro-playoff argument. Solid dude. I bet he usually buys the first round at happy hour. Probably got his boss a nice Christmas gift.
Here, though…well even the title is over the top: “Johnny Manziel flops in debut as Browns’ starting QB, so what comes next?” What comes next? My guess is that he starts a few more games, that’s what comes next. It was a bad game, but it was still just one game — and a game against a pretty decent Bengals defense, no less.
So how does Wetzel view things? My guess is totally reasonably, with not even a scant trace of overreaction or panic.
“It was just one game, and you can’t write off a career in just one game. That’s what everyone kept saying.”
Oh, good. See We’re on the same page, Wetzy. I knew you were a solid dude.
“How about three games, though?”
Oh…so that’s how you meant it. How about three games, indeed. Why, that’s practically an eternity! How about four games, while we’re at it? That’s even more games so it must be an even better barometer. Just ask the Patriots, who were 2-2 through the first four games of the season while everyone was panicking about how Brady was done and their Super Bowl window was all-but closed. Since then, all the washed-up Pats have done is sulk their way to the best point differential in the league and a shitty 11-3 record, winning another division title and setting themselves up for the top seed in the AFC. Trade Brady! Fire Belichick! Deport the Krafts! Blow up Gillette Stadium! Sell Massachusetts to Canada!
But fine, maybe I’m cherry-picking: the Patriots are a whole team, and Johnny Manziel is just one player. Still, it’s not like anyone on Cleveland really thinks we should read too much into his first few starts, right?
“‘Yeah, you’ll be able to tell,’ coach Mike Pettine said. ‘I see your point [about] not having a full season, but three games, plus the experience he got [coming off the bench] in Buffalo, I think, will be a decent sample. It’s not obviously as big of a sample size [as] we could have, but it’s a good amount.'”
Sometimes I get the sense Mike Pettine doesn’t even read this blog.
I’m sorry to harp on it, but does Mike Pettine — or anyone, really — actually believe that you can draw meaningful conclusions from 3-4 games? I could probably find a few 3-4 game stretches in every player’s history where they looked truly awful — the NFL is a tough league to be consistently excellent in, especially with the roughly 12 quadrillion variables that determine the outcome of every play, game and season. I’m so sure there are so many that I’m not even going to bother looking for any because it’d be a waste of time — and this coming from the guy who’s writing this post at work and just finished ranking the best candies. Yeah, exactly.
(Not that the Browns are our best hope for patience or objectivity: despite the collection of homeless meth addicts and puppies in football uniforms the Browns called QBs last year, Rob Chudzinski led Cleveland to the 11th-best passing offense by yardage and some vague promise for the future with Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon and an underrated defense — and he was summarily shitcanned after just his first season. The term “dumpster fire” gets thrown around a lot these days, but I think the Browns officially qualify.)
Anyway, back to the Dan Wetzel’s official declaration that Johnny Football is a bust:
“Sunday’s effort wasn’t all Manziel’s fault. Not even close. The entire team owns this disaster.
The defense couldn’t get off the field and put the team in an early hole as the Bengals’ ground game dominated time of possession. Wide receivers dropped a couple of catchable passes. The running game was pointless, with just 40 yards gained by the backs. Pass protection was porous. Still, this is the NFL. The quarterback gets too much credit and too much blame.”
I love this. It starts off like a hedge — “sure, it wasn’t entirely Manziel’s fault, not at all!” — and ends with Wetzel throwing his hands in the air helplessly and saying “welp, sucks for him though, nothing any of us can do about it.” The sad part about this is he’s absolutely right, of course, but I love that he’s mentioning it while absolving himself of any blame for it. Good writers should always make themselves part of the story, after all.
(Not that other sportswriters are much better in other sports scenarios either. If a player scores a hat trick in his first game of the season, dollars to donuts someone will mention that Player X is “on pace for 246 goals!” A little more harmless, but still boringly predictable.)
But hey, fair is fair: it was just one game just like this is just one opinion. It’s not like anyone took the opportunity to take any pot shots at Johnny Manziel…on national television…while returning from a commercial break…during the broadcast of a different game…right?
Oh come the fuck on, Joe Buck.
Anyway, I could spend all day researching historical instances of severe, week-to-week overreaction in the NFL and/or fisking more articles — believe me, I’d love to — but I think the general point has been covered: overreactions in sports are insane, and particularly so in the NFL. Do you know why no one freaks out when the Patriots trade down in the draft 14 times a year or trade away Logan Mankins? Do you know why the Pittsburgh Steelers have only had three head coaches since the late 1960s? It’s because both teams have a fucking plan and their entire organizations, from ownership on down, are all on the same page with the plan. It takes patience, vision and courage to stick to the plan, but there’s a reason that New England has been the most consistently excellent team of the last decade and why Pittsburgh has enjoyed sustained success punctuated with the occasional Super Bowl during the same time frame.
Patience is the most underrated commodity in the league by far. It’s natural to want your team to improve by leaps and bounds every year, especially when a handful of teams per year seem to be able to do it, but the NFL is a league of thin lines: one year’s close win is the next year’s close loss; one season’s playoff berth is next year’s 4-12 record, and most people are wayyyyyyyy too eager to push the panic button. A little patience goes a long way in terms of truly evaluating what you have and where your team needs to go.
Anyway, enjoy your next two games in Cleveland, Johnny Football — based on the team that drafted you, there’s a good chance they’ll be your last.