After the Cleveland Browns 28-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the quarterback controversy fires have dominated the headlines. Johnny Manziel stepped in and played three quarters in a losing effort against the New York Jets after Josh McCown got hurt, but then rebounded to defeat the Titans in his first start of the season in Week 2.
Regardless if you are on the side of Manziel or McCown, one thing has become apparent through two games this season—the Browns need to get Andrew Hawkins the ball more during the course of the game. After bursting on the scene last year with 63 receptions for 824 yards and two touchdowns in his first season with the team, Hawkins has compiled just six receptions for 67 yards through two games this season.
In the first game against the Jets, Hawkins was targeted six times (according to ESPN)—finishing with three receptions for 24 yards. On Sunday against the Titans, Hawkins received just four targets which he turned into three catches for 43 yards (once again, according to ESPN). For a player like Hawkins with excellent quickness and the ability to make things happen after the catch, targeting him just 10 times in two games is something that needs to change.
To quantify his impact, let’s take a look back to last season.
In 2014, Hawkins was targeted 112 times (according to Pro Football Reference) in 15 games (7.46 per game) after the Browns stole him away from the Cincinnati Bengals as a restricted free agent. However, prior to the return of Josh Gordon from suspension—his target numbers were higher than that. In his first nine games of the season—acting as the primary option in the offense—Hawkins was targeted 23 times, which averaged out to 9.1 times per game. In the final six games of the season, Hawkins was targeted just 30 times (five targets per game).
With the drop in targets thanks to the return of Gordon, his yardage average per game dropped from 66.7 to 37.1. In fact, if you remove the Atlanta game and focus on the team’s final five games it is even worse than that—falling down to just 26 yards per game. To put it simply, the Browns quarterbacks forget about the production Hawkins gave them early in the season.
Now, obviously when you bring in a new offensive coordinator and switch quarterbacks, some things are going to change. However, new OC John DeFilippo has kept a lot of the same concepts the team was utilizing in the offense last year—so it is going to be up to McCown or Manziel to get Hawkins more involved in the offense.
Since we do not have a sample size for McCown as a starter, let’s take a look at Manziel’s small sample size. In 2014 in relief against Buffalo, Manziel came in and attempted eight passes—with zero of those going to Hawkins. The following week, a blowout by Cincinnati, Manziel targeted Hawkins just four times, with only two of them being completed for seven yards. In Manziel’s final start of the year (which he was injured in), he targeted Hawkins twice with one completion for 28 yards.
Since all of Hawkins statistics from 2015 have come from Manziel, let’s take a look at their total numbers together.
• 0 targets vs Buffalo
• 4 targets for 2 completions and 7 yards vs Cincinnati
• 2 targets for 1 completion and 28 yards vs Carolina
• 6 targets for 3 completions and 24 yards vs New York Jets
• 4 targets for 3 completions and 43 yards vs Tennessee
Albeit a small sample size in five performances together (yes I know Manziel wasn’t in for entire games), Manziel has targeted Hawkins 16 times which have equated to 9 receptions for 102 yards. Or breaking it down on a per game basis, 3.2 targets per game for 1.8 receptions and just 20.4 yards per game.
At first glance, you would think Hawkins would be a nice fit for Manziel. With the team attempting to reduce the complexity for Manziel, a guy like Hawkins who creates separation early would seemingly be where the quarterback looks first. However, it just has not happened—as time and time again you see Manziel not finding Hawkins in the All-22, whether it is early in the play or through not progressing to his side of the field.
No matter who the quarterback is moving forward, the offense needs to find a way to make Hawkins a primary read for either McCown or Manziel. If that player ends up being Manziel though, they will have to spend extra time during practice getting these two to connect more often as the season goes on.
Browns fans got a taste of the good that could come from a Manziel to Hawkins connection when Manziel kept his eyes down field and allowed Hawkins to get open for an 18-yard gain on Sunday. However, cultivating an even better relationship between them as the season goes on will only help the offense even more, and give Manziel another go-to guy other than Travis Benjamin to help ease his transition into becoming an NFL quarterback.