1:00 PM ET, December 14, 2014
FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH
But even before Manziel was named the starter for Sunday's clash with the AFC North-leading Bengals, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis found himself on the defensive regarding the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.
While Manziel's first pro start adds another chapter to this historic rivalry, it finally gives the Browns organization and its fans an extensive look at the dynamic collegiate athlete they hope will blossom into the franchise quarterback they've coveted.
"I'm very excited to get out on the field with my teammates on Sunday and to have the opportunity to make the Dawg Pound proud," the popular and polarizing Manziel, who has made more news off the field than on it during his short NFL career, told the Browns' official website.
Coach Mike Pettine thought about starting Manziel last week but stuck with the struggling Brian Hoyer, who has thrown one touchdown and eight interceptions during Cleveland's stretch of three losses in four games. Pettine's decision became easier after Hoyer went 14 of 31 for a season-low 140 yards with two picks and no TDs as Cleveland (7-6) fell 25-24 at home to Indianapolis last Sunday.
"We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level," said Pettine, whose team has lost two in a row to fall into last place and 1 1/2 games behind the Bengals.
"Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result."
The Browns moved up four spots to take Manziel with the 22nd pick, but he couldn't beat out Hoyer in training camp after recording almost 10,000 total yards in two seasons at Texas A&M. Manziel has been on the field for 18 plays this season. His most extensive action came Nov. 30, when he went 5 of 8 for 63 yards and scored on a 10-yard run in a 26-10 loss at Buffalo.
"I've tried to spend my entire season learning what it takes to become a pro and it's been great to watch Brian because he knows what it takes," said Manziel, who will be Cleveland's 21st starting quarterback since 1999. "I've prepared every week to be ready to help the team however possible and my focus has been on improving every day."
Lewis probably had a good idea who his team would face Monday when he ignited some controversy by referring to the 6-foot Manziel as a "midget" during a radio interview. He later apologized to Manziel, the Browns and anybody else outside the organization who might have been offended.
"It was thoughtless on my part to use the word I did, and not excusable, and I greatly regret it," Lewis said in a statement.
Lewis said the Bengals (8-4-1) will game plan for the Browns as an offense, and not one player, as they try to avoid being swept in the season series for the first time since 2002. However, a defense that allowed 36 points during a three-game winning streak -- all on the road -- before a 42-21 home loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday can't afford another poor effort.
For a franchise-record third time this season, Cincinnati allowed 500 total yards. Of the season-high 543 it gave up, 193 came on the ground. The Bengals yielded 214 rushing yards over the previous three games.
Their defense absorbed another hit when Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) was placed on injured reserve this week.
"We have to be better when the odds are against us a little bit," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "When things aren't going quite as smoothly as we want them to go, we have to go out there and buckle up and play good defense."
Each ran for 54 yards against the Colts, and Crowell scored for the fourth time in five games.
Defensively, Cleveland must improve after allowing at least 23 points in four straight games and blowing a 14-point lead to the Colts.
The Browns held Cincinnati to 165 yards last month and star A.J. Green to three catches for 23. Green, who usually draws coverage from Pro Bowler Joe Haden, has been limited to 12 receptions, 81 yards and no TDs in his last three games versus Cleveland.
Green, however, recorded a career-high 224 yards and a TD on 11 receptions against the Steelers. He's gone over 120 yards three times in four games since facing Cleveland.
Andy Dalton is expected to play despite sitting near the end of last Sunday's contest after a taking a hit to the ribs. He's completed 70.8 percent of his passes with seven TDs, four INTs and a 101.3 passer rating since posting a career-worst 2.0 mark versus Cleveland, going 10 of 33 for 86 yards with three picks.
Browns kicker Billy Cundiff, who missed at least one field goal attempt in each of the last five games, had been questionable with a right knee injury but was waived Saturday. Former New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley was signed to replace Cundiff.
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|Avg Points Allowed||.0||2.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||CIN|
|Rush Yds Allowed||CIN|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Cincinnati leads 17-11|
|Nov 6, 2014||CIN 3, CLE 24|
|Nov 17, 2013||CIN 41, CLE 20|
|Sep 29, 2013||CIN 6, @CLE 17|
|Oct 14, 2012||CIN 24, @CLE 34|
|Sep 16, 2012||CIN 34, CLE 27|
|Nov 27, 2011||CIN 23, CLE 20|
|Sep 11, 2011||CIN 27, @CLE 17|
|Dec 19, 2010||CIN 19, CLE 17|
|Oct 3, 2010||CIN 20, @CLE 23|
|Nov 29, 2009||CIN 16, CLE 7|
|Oct 4, 2009||CIN 23, @CLE 20|
|Dec 21, 2008||CIN 14, @CLE 0|
|Sep 28, 2008||CIN 12, CLE 20|
|Dec 23, 2007||CIN 19, CLE 14|
|Sep 16, 2007||CIN 45, @CLE 51|
|Nov 26, 2006||CIN 30, @CLE 0|
|Sep 17, 2006||CIN 34, CLE 17|
|Dec 11, 2005||CIN 23, CLE 20|
|Sep 11, 2005||CIN 27, @CLE 13|
|Nov 28, 2004||CIN 58, CLE 48|
|Oct 17, 2004||CIN 17, @CLE 34|
|Dec 28, 2003||CIN 14, CLE 22|
|Sep 28, 2003||CIN 21, @CLE 14|
|Nov 17, 2002||CIN 20, CLE 27|
|Sep 15, 2002||CIN 7, @CLE 20|
|Nov 25, 2001||CIN 0, @CLE 18|
|Oct 14, 2001||CIN 24, CLE 14|
The Browns have lost their last 9 regular season games in December and January, the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Browns ran the ball by design on 68.0 percent of their plays in Week 10 against the Bengals, their highest percentage this season and the third-highest by any team in 2014. The Bengals allowed 193 rush yards in Week 14 against the Steelers, their second most this season.[+]
Highest Percent of Designed Rushes - This Season
A.J. Green is 90 receiving yards shy of 1,000 on the season, which would make 4 straight seasons with 1,000 receiving yards to start his career. Randy Moss is the only other player in NFL history to accomplish that feat. Green is also closing in on Jerry Rice for the 3rd-most receiving yards through a player's 1st 4 NFL seasons.[+]
Most Receiving Yards in 1st 4 NFL Seasons
Johnny Manziel will become the fifth rookie quarterback drafted in the 1st Round to make his first career start in Week 15 or later in the last 20 years.[+]
1st-Round Rookie QBs - 1st Start in Week 15 or Later Last 20 Seasons
Expect to see Johnny Manziel on the move Sunday. Manziel has broken the pocket on 6 of his 11 dropbacks this season. He's only 1-of-4 passing for 12 yards out of the pocket, but has 13 yards and a TD on 2 scrambles.
FROM ELIAS: The last 1st-round pick QB to get shut out in his 1st start was Tommy Maddox in 1992 against the Raiders
The Browns ran 38 offensive plays Sunday, the fewest by any team in a game this season and fewest by the Browns since Week 1 of 1999, when they ran 28 plays vs the Steelers in a 43-0 loss. QBs Tim Couch and Ty Detmer combined to go 6-for-16 for 52 yards and 2 Int in that one.
Lots of qualifiers but it's Johnny Manziel we're talking about[+]
0 Pass TD, 2 Int, 3 Sacks, Less Than 100 Pass Yds - 1st Career Start Last 30 Years
Johnny Manziel's 1.0 Total QBR is the worst in a game by any starter this season (min. 10 Pass att).
ESPN Stats & Information