If positive steps can be taken in a bad loss, that is.
Here are five ways Manziel improved from the Cincinnati game to the Steelers:
1) Patience. This was not the skittish Manziel from earlier games, the guy who was so eager to get out of pocket or eager to run. Manziel sat in the pocket and read the field. Manziel dropped back to throw 53 times. He was sacked six times. He left the pocket just 10 times. That's a new level of patience for a guy whose previous first instinct was to move at the first opportunity.
2) Pocket presence and awareness. One number from ESPN Stats & Information illustrates this: Manziel completed 83 percent from the pocket. After a week in which he was criticized for not being a guy who would drop back, plant and throw, Manziel did just that. And he completed 29-of-35 for 282 yards, a passer rating of 92.7. Manziel held the ball longer than three seconds on only 13 throws and more than four seconds on three throws. This may not border on the level of the loaves and fishes, but those numbers prompted double-takes.
3) He ran more judiciously. Manziel will never have a game when he doesn't scramble and/or run some. It's simply his nature. But in this game he was able to scramble and twice make big plays. The first came on the Browns second possession. He had already fumbled on that ugly first play, and had third-and-9 on the second drive after a near-interception on second down. Manziel got out of the pocket and found Travis Benjamin for a 61-yard pass that jumpstarted his day. In the third quarter, he avoided a rush and scampered up the middle. The play looked like a touchdown, but was ruled down at the one-foot line.
4) Third down. Heading into the game, Manziel for the season was 13-for-27 on third down, for 226 yards. That's less than a 50 percent completion rate. Against Pittsburgh, he went 10-for-12 for 140 yards. Josh McCown highlighted Manziel's third-down throw to Brian Hartline for 17 yards that converted a third-and-14. It went between two defenders, and was right on the money. "For me, that is what you are looking for in an NFL quarterback, a guy who can stand in there on third-and-long and make those throws," McCown said.
5) Mental toughness. Manziel heard a lot of negatives after the game against Cincinnati, from the media and from his coaches, who pointed out in laborious detail what he missed in that game and what he could do better. Then he started in Pittsburgh and on his first play had one of those "That's so Browns" plays as the ball fell out of his hand when he went to throw. Manziel then nearly threw an interception on the next possession. But instead of letting it get to him, on the road, in Pittsburgh, Manziel regrouped and had a 372-yard day. That showed something.
In total, McCown said Manziel "did the things that he needs to do to continue to grow and play the position."
Now he gets the chance to start, sustain and build on what he did against Pittsburgh.