Brian Orakpo, DeAngelo Hall and company may not get a chance to go up against rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel tonight when the Browns come to play their preseason game at FedEx Field.
Jay Gruden said earlier that Orakpo, Hall and the rest of the Washington defense are slated to play about a quarter tonight. Under the normal flow of a game, that means about two series.
Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said last week that both Manziel and Brian Hoyer, who are competing for the starting QB job, will play in the first half against Washington with Hoyer playing the first two series, Manziel the next two, and then alternating every two series for the rest of the first half. Both quarterbacks will play with the Browns’ first-string offense.
But if Manziel doesn’t come in until the third series it might be tough for Pettine to judge who the winner of the competition is. If Gruden sticks to his plan he will be facing the Redskins’ second team defense. Trent Murphy and Rob Jackson aren’t bad players but they won’t test Manziel like Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan would. Instead of seeing if he can read coverage thrown up by veterans like Ryan Clark and Hall, Manziel will match wits with Bashaud Breeland and Bacarri Rambo.
Per Pettine, the team will decide who will start the season opener on Tuesday. It will be hard for him to make a fair comparison if Hoyer plays with the Browns' ones vs. the Redskins ones and Manziel gets the Cleveland starters against the Redskins' backups.
Pettine said over the weekend that he will contact Gruden to find out just what his plan is for playing his frontline players. If it doesn’t work for Pettine then he is the one who may alter his what he is going to do.
“But his plan is his plan,” Pettine said of Gruden. “It’s his football team, and if we have to make some adjustments to get the matchups we want, then we will.”
Even if Gruden was inclined to extend the playing time of his starters, it would not be a good idea. The Redskins face the Ravens on Saturday and extended playing time for his starters would leave them in bad shape for the team’s third, “dress rehearsal” preseason game where starters will play at least a half. Gruden won’t want them to play more than about 15 snaps.
It looks like Pettine will have two choices. He can either alter his blueprint and bring Manziel in for the second series or he can see how the rookie performs with his starting offense against the Redskins’ backups.
Or maybe things will work out for the Browns. If Hoyer leads the Browns to two quick three and outs, Gruden is likely to leave his defensive starters in for longer. That could lead to Manziel getting his reps with his first team vs. the Redskins’ first team.
Meanwhile, watching what happens with the Redskins have the ball could be quite telling. The starting offense is supposed to leave after the first quarter as well. That would leave the Redskins backups up against the Cleveland starters. That will be a good test for Kirk Cousins, who will have to deal with start CB Joe Haden and for the offensive line, which will have to go up against a strong Cleveland front seven.