NFL Preseason: Mixed bags by Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel on MNF

Johnny Manziel was under pressure on Monday night.
Johnny Manziel was under pressure on Monday night. (USATSI)

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What an ugly first half. Billed as the battle of two Texas talents and a pair of former Heisman winners in Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, the slop-fest that was Redskins-Browns didn’t come close to hitting expectations early on.

Things got so bad in the first half "Maybe Rex Grossman" started trending nationally on Twitter. Oy.

Griffin was the ultimate mixed bag on the field. He finished 6/8 (good) for 112 yards (14 yards per attempt, very good!) but threw an ugly interception (bad) and generally looked like he was going to get taken out of FedEx Field in a body bag because he still hasn’t learned how to avoid large hits (very, very bad). 

The last one is a major problem and someone needs to do something about it. Griffin looks like his brain is in some sort of weird athletic purgatory: his instinct tells him to make plays with his legs but everything he’s learned the past two years starts to kick in to keep him safe. The problem is it creates the most dangerous result, with Griffin looking hesitant on the field and unable to utilize his natural-born talents.

Jay Gruden admitted after the game he's "a little bit" concerned about Griffin's inability to protect himself while moving around and scrambling.

How hard would it be to take a couple hours a week and practice sliding? That’s a serious question. Griffin’s a busy dude and he’s a hard-working man. But given the way he plays the game and the dangerous nature of his freelancing, putting aside something to get better at giving himself up would almost feels like a necessity. If he doesn’t learn how to avoid contact, he won’t last in this league. 

This was the primary criticism of Griffin coming into the NFL. His dominant rookie year -- and it was indeed a special, never-seen-before season -- allayed some of those fears. But the dichotomy of 2012, with Griffin dominant and self-destructive at the same time, still lingers.  

It’s funny, though. A lot of critics think he can’t be a “pocket passer” or “play real quarterback,” but not many QBs throw a prettier deep ball than RG3. 

That was everything about RG3 in a nutshell. He came out early looking accurate and efficient, tossed a back-breaking interception, nearly got killed a few times and right as everyone was about to get real worried, brought the crowd back with a feat of impressive athleticism.

Just learn how to slide already, Robert.

Johnny Football, As Advertised

Don’t let anyone ever tell you the world won’t get its money’s worth with Johnny Manziel. The walking lightning rod did whatever it is he does once again on Monday night, mixing questionable football decisions with impressive on-field play and YOLO-level swagger. 

It wasn’t just tossing money signs on Monday either. Manziel managed to get caught flicking someone off (the Redskins bench?) while running back to the huddle in the third quarter.

"That did not sit well," Mike Pettine said. "It's disappointing." 

Discussing just the football aspect of it, Manziel was OK at best. He got snaps during the first quarter against Washington's starters and didn't look sharp on a three and out, which featured Ryan Kerrigan sacking him to squash the drive and Brian Orakpo promptly busting out the money sign.

He picked up his play and seemed to settle down a little bit (eventually throwing a touchdown pass on a shovel-ish toss to Dion Lewis in the third quarter), although it was against the Redskins backups.

If the Browns went into Monday night needing Manziel to put up a huge effort in order to beat out Hoyer for the Week 1 starting job, there's no way you can argue he won the gig.

My gut says the Browns want to avoid introducing him to the NFL with the icy death grip of Dick LeBeau's defense. On the other hand, can you imagine what would happen if Manziel was named the starter and promptly beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh during his first game? Absolute pandemonium. 

Hoyer No Bueno

There's no way Cleveland can just give Hoyer this job. No way. He's 6/22 for 108 yards with zero touchdowns in the preseason thus far. He simply hasn't been very good. And he was pretty terrible Monday, going 2/6 for a discombobulated-looking 16 yards.

Again, it can't be stressed enough. If you're picking between a) an average, limited-ceiling veteran quarterback you don't see worthy of any kind of reasonable extension and b) the future of your franchise, a guy who sells tons of tickets and has tons of upside ... well it shouldn't be that much of a choice.

If Hoyer was doing anything to distinguish himself this preseason, it wouldn't be hard for the Browns to do whatever they want. But he really hasn't.

Too bad Manziel hasn't either, otherwise this wouldn't be such a welterweight slugfest of a quarterback battle. 

Pettine said, "all the options are still on the table" with respect to the quarterback position. He wants to make the decision Tuesday but kept pointing toward the need to see the film, although he did offer "they both missed some throws." 

No Protection

More concerning than Manziel's play was the Browns protection -- or lack thereof -- for their quarterbacks. This is supposed to be a good line. Joe Thomas and Alex Mack are All-Pro players. Mitchell Schwartz was a high draft pick, but he's a liability right now. And if you can't protect Manziel, you can't really justify throwing him on the field.

Limited protection plus limited weapons plus a fearless quarterback who loves to improvise has "wrongful death lawsuit" stamped all over it. 

Running Strong

Nice night for the running back combo of Ben Tate and Terrance West. They totaled 81 yards on 18 carries (4.5 per) and both looked strong in different aspects. Tate hit the correct holes and picked up chunk yardage a few times.

West at one point ran into another human being who was trying to tackle him and simply shoved him back in an impressive display of power.

Burnt Toast

Not the most fun evening for Royce Young, who gave up a pair of ugly touchdown passes. He wasn't anywhere near Ryan Grant when Kirk Cousins found the Redskins wideout for a touchdown pass. And though Young deserves credit for helping us all avoid the national nightmare that is preseason overtime, he did it by giving up another long touchdown pass, this time from Colt McCoy to Nick Williams

How About Shaw???

We're joking, we think, when we suggest Connor Shaw could be the Browns starting quarterback. He's on the roster bubble but my goodness the former South Carolina Gamecocks starter looked sharp late.

Including a 45-yard Hail Mary bomb that nearly won the game, Shaw finished 8/9 for 123 yards and a score. 

He definitely went up against the Redskins backups and he really shouldn't be considered for the starting job. We think. Maybe. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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