After a narrow 25-24 loss to the Colts at the weekend, the debate over Johnny Manziel v Brian Hoyer has once again been ignited and the time has come for Mike Pettine to put it to bed once and for all for this season. The news that Manziel is due to start against the Bengals is welcome but Pettine needs to go further.
The issue of Manziel has been like an albatross around Cleveland all season. Talk of the rookie quarterback starting dominated the pre-season before mercifully dipping away when Brian Hoyer led the Browns to a strong start.
It came back to the fore when Manziel was put in against Bills. It died away a bit when Hoyer started against the Colts, but after another poor performance by Hoyer, the issue is once again the hot topic of debate.
Simply put, is a player who threw for 140 total yards at an average of 4.52 yards per play with a completion percentage of 45.2% worthy of continuing to start? Against a Vontae Davis-less Colts with both Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron playing, Hoyer should have done much better.
Like any heated debate there were decent arguments on both sides.
- Manziel has been informed he will start for Cleveland Browns in Week 15
- Johnny Manziel called a midget by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis
- Johnny Manziel's Browns' starting debut will be a flop, says Vegas
Proponents of Hoyer starting could point to the fact that the Browns have a winning record. For a team that has struggled so much for decades, that shouldn't be underestimated. Especially when Hoyer has been without offensive playmakers like Cameron and Gordon for periods this season. They could also argue that the players still seemed to be behind Hoyer. By all accounts this time last week they still hadn't been won over by the hotshot rookie.
On the other hand though, Hoyer has been struggling for a while now. With better quarterback play the Browns could have easily picked up a couple of extra wins. Plus the Browns drafted Manziel in the first round of the draft. In the long-term he is the starting quarterback for the franchise, not Hoyer, so why not let him start gaining experience now?
Was starting Manziel the right choice? From the outside it is impossible to give a clear answer to all these questions. The information just is not there to make an informed decision. What can be said though is that a decision needed to be made one way or the other.
The news that Manziel will start against the Bengals is welcome but it doesn't go far enough. Over the past few weeks Pettine has created uncertainty in Cleveland where none was needed.
If Manziel is not ready why put him in against Buffalo? If he is ready why bench him against the Colts? Do they regret drafting him so high?
After publicly tap dancing for so long, Pettine needs to come out and unequivocally say that Manziel is the starter now no matter what. Starting as a rookie quarterback in the NFL is hard enough but starting in the middle of a playoff push - where three straight wins are required - is a vice-like level of pressure.
If the Browns are to have any chance of making the playoffs this season Manziel needs to feel that he has the full backing of the team and coaching staff. Failing to do so not only risks this season but also the future health of the franchise.
Pettine needs to come out publicly and make Manziel feel loved.