Nothing that happened Sunday against the Bengals has changed Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's optimism about rookie quarterback Duke Johnson Jr..
Simply put, there weren't enough plays to even begin a proper evaluation.
"As far as that game," Shanahan said after practice Thursday, "that was the fewest amount of plays I think I've ever called in a game.
"I feel the same about Johnny as I always have. Johnny is a playmaker. He's done that throughout his career. Nobody can argue with that at all."
Shanahan's plan this week centers on how Manziel and the Browns offense can generate enough consistency to blow Sunday's total of 38 plays out of the water in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers. After gaining 107 yards and picking up five first downs against the Bengals, there's nowhere to go but up against a Carolina team that needs a win to keep its NFC playoff hopes alive.
If the solution sounds simple, that's because it is.
"I don't think there was anything that Johnny wasn't capable of doing," Shanahan said. "We just weren't on, and it wasn't just him. It was the whole offense, coaches included. We're just working to get better at this stuff, and I don't think there was anything he couldn't do. We've just got to do it at a higher level."
What differed between the circumstances Manziel faced in Buffalo, where he led an impressive touchdown drive in relief of Brian Hoyer, and against Cincinnati had a lot to do with what the opposing defense allowed him to do, Shanahan said.
In his fourth-quarter appearance against the Bills, Manziel used his feet to scramble for 3 yards on his first play, rolled out on a handful of passes and capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown scramble. Against the Bengals, he finished with 13 rushing yards for the entire game while running only two bootleg passes. One of those was Manziel's best play of the game, a 32-yard completion to Josh Gordon.
"If people are playing it, you call one and you get some pretty violent hits into you," Shanahan said. "Usually, that does help out the run game and stuff so you're always looking for that as a coach. If they're giving you the bootleg, I'll call it every play as you probably saw with Kirk Cousins in 2012 when we played here, but if they're taking the bootleg away, I'm not going to call it and have him run into a knockout."
Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns by running those bootlegs against the Browns in what was his first career start. Finding a way for Manziel to establish the same sort of rhythm is the goal as he grows more comfortable with the players around him and speed of the game in his second start Sunday.
One thing Shanahan doesn't fear? Manziel losing any of the confidence he oozed throughout his two stat-stuffing seasons at Texas A&M.
"Johnny is a real impressive guy," Shanahan said. "I don't think everybody knows really what Johnny is about, and Johnny is very humble. Johnny is a real dude. He's not going to sit there and BS me or anything. We all were embarrassed by that game. Anytime you don't put up points – it's not just Johnny – all of us are extremely embarrassed about that. We want to get back to Sunday, and Sunday couldn't come quick enough."
As Mike Pettine reiterated throughout the week, Manziel's next two starts are important, but they won't be viewed as dealbreakers if they're poor or exact prophecies of the future if they're great. They'll be valuable, yes, but it's what Manziel does in his first full offseason and how he adjusts to a new array of looks from opposing defenses that will determine his success beyond 2014.
"There's a lot of highs and lows in football, but it's what you do over the course of time on how you're judged – all of us, coaches and players," Shanahan said. "As long as you have the skillset to do it and you keep working at it, and when you do fail, you learn from your mistakes, then you can have a good career. I think Johnny does look at it that way.
"He knows he's not there yet, like every rookie quarterback isn't. He knows he's got a ways to go, but I think he'll keep working to do it."