Containing Browns QB Johnny Manziel’s elusiveness a priority for Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs coaching staff didn’t hold back the past week on complimenting Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Dec. 20, 2015; Seattle; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) scrambles out of the pocket in the first half as Seahawks outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) pursues at CenturyLink Field. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Dec. 20, 2015; Seattle; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) scrambles out of the pocket in the first half as Seahawks outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) pursues at CenturyLink Field. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

“He’s an explosive player, makes a lot of things happen,” coach Andy Reid said. “He’s great at extending plays.

“From a defensive standpoint, you’ve got to make sure you play the whole play, and then a little. He moves around well. He’s got a very strong arm.”

Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton echoed Reid’s assessment of the Browns’ first-round pick (22nd overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft.

“Some of the throws he can make when running to his right or left and back across the field, not a lot of people can do that,” Sutton said. “So he’s got a great arm, his release is extremely fast. And I think, obviously, his ability to move in the pocket, to escape.”

The Chiefs clearly have respect for Manziel, who has appeared in nine games with five starts in 2015, completing 116 of 191 passes for 1,364 yards and seven touchdowns against four interceptions. He has also rushed for 122 yards on 26 attempts.

But Sunday won’t mark the first time the Chiefs defense squares off against a dual-threat quarterback since Reid and the current coaching staff arrived in 2013.

In the past three seasons, the Chiefs have faced the likes of Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Aaron Rodgers, Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater, Terrelle Pryor, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, among others.

With the exceptions of Vick’s 99 yards rushing in 2013 and Wilson’s 71 yards rushing in 2014, the Chiefs held their own against some of the NFL’s top mobile signal callers.

“We’ve played over the course of time here some different guys,” Sutton said. “Russell Wilson has great escape ability; Kaepernick had that kind of thing.”

But even with the experience against quarterbacks capable of extending plays, the Chiefs aren’t taking Manziel lightly.

“This guy is a little bit different I think and he’s very nifty in there,” Sutton said. “And then just his arm strength is something on the move.”

While Manziel poses a threat outside of the pocket, he hasn’t gouged a defense with his legs in 2015. His best game on the ground came in Week 1 against the New York Jets when he gained 35 yards rushing on five carries.

There is more to Manziel than just the running aspect, of course, and the Chiefs are aware of the second-year pro’s ability to put up passing yards.

The Browns quarterback threw for 372 yards and a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10, and had 270 yards passing and a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14.

And Manziel catches a break with the Chiefs hurting on the edges, where solid outside linebacker play is necessary to keep a mobile quarterback in the pocket.

Manziel goes against a defense without outside linebacker Justin Houston, who will miss a fourth straight game with a hyperextended knee. The Chiefs could also be without outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who underwent surgery to repair a broken right thumb and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

But second-year pro Dee Ford, who has filled in for Houston, offers speed and has played well as a starter the past three games, totaling nine tackles and three sacks during that span. Frank Zombo, who could start in place of Hali, brings experience with 71 appearances (14 starts) over his six-year career.

The Chiefs defense also plays the run well, ranking seventh in the league, and the defensive front has Maziel’s attention.

“You look at what they do up front, that’s really a big strength for them,” Manziel said in conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “Guys that have been playing together and have been solid for a while now.”

Holding the elusive Manziel in check boils down to the defense maintaining discipline regardless of personnel packages.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters points out it will be important for everyone on defense to do their job and have trust in each other on Sunday.

“We’ve got some elite guys up front,” Peters said. “We know he’s going to want to get out of the pocket and try to extend some plays with his legs and he can do it. It’s all about us just playing disciplined and just staying on top.”

TALE OF THE TAPE

OFFENSE

• The Chiefs rank eighth in rushing (122.8 yards per game) and 28th in passing (213.1 yards per game).
• The Browns rank 29th in rushing (86.5 yards per game) and 14th in passing (247.8 yards per game).

DEFENSE

• The Chiefs rank seventh against the run (92.2 yards allowed per game) and 17th against the pass (243.2 yards allowed per game).
• The Browns rank 31st against the run (134.9 yards allowed per game) and 22nd against the pass (252.9 yards allowed per game).

THE LAST TIME

The Chiefs defeated the Browns, 23-17, in Week 8 of the 2013 season at Arrowhead Stadium.

Sunday’s matchup represents the 25th meeting between the two teams and the series is tied 11-11-2. The Chiefs, however, are 8-3-1 in the all-time series against Cleveland in games played in Kansas City, including holding a 7-3-1 mark against the Browns at Arrowhead Stadium.

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith Smith is 2-0 in his 11-year career against the Browns, while Andy Reid is 5-0 in his head coaching career against the Browns.

CONNENCTIONS

• Browns wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is a former first-round of the Chiefs in the 2007 NFL Draft and spent eight seasons in Kansas City (2007-14).
• Browns general manager Ray Farmer spent seven seasons with the Chiefs serving as the director of pro personnel (2006-12).
• Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson started eight games at quarterback for the Browns during the 2000 season.
• Chiefs director of football administration Trip MacCracken spent a decade in Cleveland serving in a variety of front office roles (1999-2009).

QUOTABLE

Chiefs coach Andy Reid on safety Eric Berry’s remarkable comeback from Hodgkin lymphoma en route to Berry making the Pro Bowl:

“The more his hair grew back, the stronger his body became as he went. Here he is today as a Pro Bowl player.”

Browns coach Mike Pettine on former Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who has been inactive eight games in Cleveland:

“He’s frustrated and things haven’t gone the way that we thought they would go or he thought that would go.”

Chiefs wide receiver Jason Avant on the postgame jersey-swapping trend sweeping the NFL:

“If I lost a game, I’m not going out there swapping jerseys.”

Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, arguably one of the NFL’s top punters, reacts to flying under the radar during Pro Bowl voting:

“I like coming here to work, walking into a store with (kicker) Cairo (Santos) and he gets noticed before me and I’ve been here 10 years longer. I’m totally fine with that.”

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Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.

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