Manziel acquits himself well in lopsided loss to Steelers
The Cleveland Browns showed their many flaws on a dismal, flag-filled afternoon, but this time their quarterback wasn't one of them.
Making just his fifth career start, Johnny Manziel threw for 372 yards on Sunday and lifted a one-dimensional Browns offense in a 30-9 loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field. The second-year passer stayed longer in the pocket, completed 33 of 45 throws, and showed poise that drew praise from teammates and his coach.
Manziel never had thrown for more than 182 yards.
“The more I'm in there, the more that it starts to slow down for me,” said Manziel, who threw a fourth-quarter touchdown to tight end Gary Barnidge. “As the game went on, I felt we were pretty dialed in on the coverages and what (opportunities) we had throwing the ball. Things are slowing down. I don't want to say anything comes out of this game positive, but for the most part, at least I learned a little bit today.”
Manziel's performance wasn't perfect. He fumbled on his first snap and later threw a fourth-down interception near the goal line. But Browns coach Mike Pettine said his quarterback “improved greatly,” in large part because wasn't looking to scramble too soon.
“He did a good job of understanding what (defense) they were in, knowing where the ball had to go and know if he had to move in the pocket to get the lane to throw it,” Pettine said. “I think he took a big step forward in that sense.”
Manziel ran only three times for 17 yards. His longest throw was a 61-yarder to wideout Travis Benjamin, who had seven catches and 113 yards.
“It's a process to try and learn when to stay in the pocket and make throws and when to get out and run a little bit,” said Manziel, 22, a first-round pick last year. “I think for the majority of the day I had a good balance of that.”
Manziel delivered his best day as a pro, but couldn't overcome everything else that went wrong Sunday. The Browns rushed for just 15 yards. Their defense allowed 459 yards. Manziel was sacked six times, and once was twisted violently to the ground by his facemask. Benjamin dropped a sure touchdown catch on the goal line.
There also were 12 penalties that total 188 yards. The flags extended Steelers possessions and killed a long second-half Browns drive that moved backward from the 1. The Browns had first-and-goal a foot from the end zone after an 11-yard run by Manziel. A holding penalty, an illegal formation infraction and a sack left the Browns with second-and-goal at the 25.
Manziel has started three times this season in place of Josh McCown, a 13-year career journeyman who's been injured twice. Manziel entered Sunday with 736 yards passing, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Pettine wouldn't say which quarterback would start after next week's bye, but teammates praised Manziel's growth.
“His maturity level and his leadership qualities are starting to evolve and develop into what we know he can be,” Browns lineman John Greco said. “I think he knows that. ... It's fun playing with him. Sometimes you don't really know where he's at behind you, but you know he's going to make a play. We just have to do more for him.”
Leadership and maturity weren't always mentioned among Manziel's attributes in his two seasons in Cleveland.
“He has more confidence in himself and his ability,” Greco said, “and maybe more confidence in the guys in front of him and the guys on the edge making plays for him. You can tell there's a different guy there.”