Johnny Manziel takes 'big step forward' in loss to Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- If positive steps can be taken in a bad loss, Johnny Manziel moved forward in the Cleveland Browns’ 30-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Manziel learned from the things he didn’t do in the loss to Cincinnati and used that information to make adjustments that allowed him to throw for 372 yards against Pittsburgh, just seven fewer than Ben Roethlisberger.

Manziel’s team didn’t win, and the Browns scored just nine points. But when it came to operating the Browns offense, standing in the pocket and making throws, this was a different Manziel than the Browns had seen before.

“If you just look at it individually, I thought he took a big step forward,” coach Mike Pettine said.

Pettine would not commit to keeping Manziel as the starter when the Browns return from their bye week, but if Sunday was his new standard, he deserves the starts the rest of the season.

Manziel threw a ridiculously high total of 45 passes because the Browns were behind and couldn’t run (14 carries for 15 yards); he completed 33. He threw a touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge, and twice came just short of additional touchdowns when Travis Benjamin dropped a throw that was right into his hands at the goal line and when Manziel came within a foot of running for a score.

“Don’t do the same mistakes twice,” Manziel said of his process since the loss to the Bengals. “There were times I needed to stay in the pocket and trust and throw the ball before guys were out of their breaks and times when I needed to run around a little bit and make a play. Like I said, I think I had a good balance of that today.

“Overall the big picture is I’m progressing. I’m getting better. That’s what I want to be doing.”

Manziel completed 83 percent from inside the pocket and 81 percent when he was not pressured, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

He took the throws that were there, taking the advice of the coaching staff to take the short throw and make it second-and-4. He also threw a perfect touch fade to Gary Barnidge in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. And when he had to move, he did so effectively.

He showed some toughness," safety Mike Mitchell said. "His scrambling is really elite, something special. I knew he was going to be good at it, I didn’t appreciate he was going to be that good at it. He really tested our cardio a lot.”

Manziel’s previous single-game high for passing yards was 182, which came when he relieved against the Jets after Josh McCown’s first drive. In games he started and finished, his high was 172 against Tennessee. He doubled that total on Sunday.

“I was seeing things a lot better than I did last week [against Cincinnati],” Manziel said.

Nobody would say things went ideally, not when a team loses by 21 and turns a first-and-goal at the one-foot line into second-and-goal at the 25 thanks to penalties and a sack, a series Manziel called “senseless.”

But Manziel showed for the first time that he is capable of handling an NFL offense and operating like an NFL quarterback. The Steelers may have conceded the short stuff to avoid the big play, but Manziel still deserves credit for taking what was given and being productive.

As for the rest of the season, the NFL still has to rule on whether Manziel will be disciplined for an Oct. 12 incident in which police were called when he was arguing with his girlfriend. Pettine merely said the staring quarterback will be part of an overall bye week evaluation.

Manziel made his feelings clear.

“I want to keep playing,” Manziel said. “Every game that I keep playing, I keep learning.”