Johnny Manziel takes "a big step forward" in loss to Steelers

Despite the Browns 30-9 loss to the Steelers, Johnny Manziel had his best game as an NFL quarterback

PITTSBURGH— The Browns came out of Pittsburgh 2-8 heading to the bye, but they might have seen their second-year quarterback turn the corner despite dropping a 30-9 decision to the Steelers.

Johnny Manziel had his best game in the NFL as he had a career best 372 yards passing on 33-of-45 attempts in front of 64,402 fans at Heinz Field. He had a touchdown and threw an interception, finishing with a rating of 95.8. Manziel also was the leading rusher with 17 yards on three attempts. He also came within an inch of scoring a touchdown and having another sure touchdown dropped by a receiver in the end zone. He also was sacked five times. Manziel registered the fourth-best performance by a Browns quarterback on the road in franchise history in just his fifth NFL start.

“I was seeing things a lot better than I did last week,” Manziel said. “I don’t know if it was a concerted effort. Like I said, I’m going to come out and play my game. My game is to come out and try to win the game and go through my progressions just like any other quarterback.

“When things break down, I think I had a chance to make some plays here and there,” he said. “On the first drive, obviously it didn’t go the way we wanted to but we came back in the second to move a little bit to get Travis (Benjamin) the ball and it was a big play. It’s a process to try and learn when to stay in the pocket and when to make throws and when to get out and run a little bit. I think for the majority of the day I had a good balance of that.”

Manziel’s longest pass was to Benjamin for 61 yards to the Steelers 10 on a third-and-9 that set up the Browns first score.

A synopsis of how the Browns game in Pittsburgh unfolded could be summed up by a drive to end the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. Manziel led the Browns down the field for an apparent touchdown on his most impressive drive of the game. From the Steelers’ 12, Manziel looked as though he was going to be sacked, but spun around out of the pocket and scrambled and dove into the end zone. He was ruled down inside the one and the Browns challenged, but the call stood and the Browns had a first down on the one. 

“It was literally an inch from being (a touchdown),” Manziel said.“(I just) need to reach the ball out a little further.”

After the reversal of the touchdown,  it went down hill.

Isaiah Crowell scored around the right end on first down easily but Cameron Erving was called for holding to take the touchdown off the board and moving the ball back to the 11. After having touchdowns on successive plays called back, the Browns had a holding call, illegal formation and a sack on the next three plays and were back to the 25.  After a short pass over the middle to Andrew Hawkins, the Browns went for is on fourth down and Manziel was intercepted by Mike Mitchell near the goal line. 

“It’s senseless,” Manziel said. “It’s what we continue to do is shoot ourselves in the foot.”

John Greco agreed the Browns are hurting themselves, especially in the red zone. 

“Mistakes killed us today,” Greco said. “The window of opportunity shrinks when you’re in the red zone. That’s a big area of concern.”

After the turnover, the Browns scored their only touchdown after an interception by Jordan Poyer on the Steelers’ second play and returned it to the Pittsburgh 11. Manziel then threw a touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge for seven yards to make the score 24-9 at the time.

Mike Pettine wasn’t ready to declare Manziel the starter for the rest of the season, but did say he felt he played his best game as a pro.

“I thought Johnny Manziel did some good things,” Pettine said. “He stayed poised, had some good presence in the pocket and moved well. I think he improved greatly from the Thursday night game knowing where he had to be to make throws and not looking to get out of the pocket too soon. He made some good plays.”

Manziel was criticized for sometimes looking to run, rather than throw from the pocket, which he did today. Pettine was asked if having Manziel stay in the pocket was a point of emphasis.

“No, it was running the offense,” Pettine said. “It was trusting the read. When you say, ‘trust the read,’ it’s implied that if the read is there, hit your plant and throw it. I thought he did a good job of understanding what they were in, knowing where the ball had to go and knowing if he had to move in the pocket to get the lane to throw it. I think he took a big step forward in that sense.”

The game didn’t start well for Manziel, who lost control of the ball as he attempted to pass on the first offensive play for the Browns and Arthur Moats recovered and returned the ball to the Browns 12. Three plays later, Chris Boswell  hit a 24-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead.

The Browns were driving late in the game and were stopped on fourth down. Manziel threw a quick slant to Benjamin who was wide open in the end zone but he dropped the sure touchdown pass. After an incomplete pass, Barnidge couldn’t hang on to a pass in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the five.

 Manziel said he feels he’s getting more comfortable and wants to continue playing.

“Hope so,” he said. “I want to keep playing. Every game I play, the more things slowed down and the more chances I get to go out there and get a chance to start, the better. I feel that’s true progression.”

With the bye week and the Browns at 2-8, it would seem logical that Manziel would continue to be the starter, even when Josh McCown is able to return.

“The more I’m in there, the more it starts to slow down for me.”

Extra Points

Changes?: Jimmy Haslam told a reporter that he was not going to make any changes as the bye regarding the front office as he left Heinz Field in a hurry. Pettine was asked if that was his understanding.

“I had a good meeting with Jimmy just the other day,” Pettine said. “We discussed a lot of things including what’s been going well and what hasn’t been going well. We discussed what the plan is moving forward. 

“Where we are right now isn’t good enough,” he said. “We’re challenged as a staff to do a little soul searching, come up with some answers and make sure when we come out of this break, we’re ready to go and ready to snap this streak.”

Pettine was asked if he anticipated making any changes to his coaching staff at the bye with a 2-8 record.

“No,” he said. “This time will give us a chance to evaluate it. We’ll be in as a staff this week. The players will be off after Wednesday, but the staff will be in a little bit longer to evaluate everything from A to Z.”

Ben Ignites Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t even supposed to play, but he came off the bench to ignite the Steelers with 18 first half points enroute to the 30-9 win over the Browns. Roethlisberger was questionable with a mid-foot sprain suffered in last week’s game and the plan was to play QB Landry Jones and only use Roethlisberger in an emergency case.

However, Jones was stepped on the Steelers second series and Roethlisberger needed to enter as the only other quarterback, Michael Vick was inactive. 

Roethlisberger came in and was 18-of-23 for 286 yards with two touchdowns and a 147.5.  in the first half as  the offense put up 21 unanswered points after Roethlisberger entered the game.  He finished 22-of-33 for 379 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. HIs rating was 123.2.

Roethlisberger  was not on the inactive list, while Michael Vick was listed as inactive. Roethlisberger was seen warming up in the tunnel before the game. The Steelers listed no changes to their starting lineups, which lists Roethlisberger as the starter. However, Jones was stepped on in the second series and Roethlisberger came on with 8:06 left in the first quarter and immediately led the Steelers on a scoring drive. Before the first half was over, Roethlisberger threw touchdowns passes to WR Antonio Brown and WR Martavis Bryant to give the Steelers a 21-3 lead.

Jones was 3-of-4 for 23 yards before he was injured.

Teaming Up: The Browns couldn’t stop the Steelers outside receivers as WR Antonio Bryant had 10 receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns and WR Martinis Bryant caught six passes for 178 yards and one touchdown. 

Third Quarter Time: The Browns had the ball for over 13 minutes in the third quarter and were still outscored, 3-0.

Lots of Yellow: The Browns had 12 penalties for 188 yards.

Backfired: Trailing 14-3 near the end of the first half and the Steelers inside the Browns 10, Pettine tried to preserve some time using two timeouts. However, after stopping Pittsburgh on downs at the one-yard line, Pittsburgh stopped the clock quickly after the Browns couldn’t move the ball and punted back to the Steelers after 14 seconds. Two plays later, Roethlisberger threw a 32-yard touchdown to Martavis Bryant for a touchdown and Pittsburgh led 21-3 at halftime.  

Back-to-Back PI: DB Johnson Bademosi and DB Tramon Williams were called for pass interference penalties on successive plays on the Steelers opening possession of the second half that accounted for 77 yards.

Rushing: The Browns rushed for minus 6 yards in the first half. RB Duke Johnson was the only back in the positive in the first half with three carries for 10 yards. QB Johnny Manziel had zero yards, while WR Travis Benjamin was minus 7 and RB Isaiah Crowell had five carries for minus 9 yards. The Browns finished with just 15 yards rushing on 14 attempts. Manziel had three carries for 17 yards, while Johnson finished with 10 yards on four attempts. Crowell finished with -5 yards on six attempts and Benjamin had one attempt for -7 yards.  

Rushing Defense: RB DeAngelo Williams had just 3 yards at halftime and finished with 54 yards. Overall, the Steelers had 60 yards on 21 attempts for just a 2.9 average. 

Rabbit Trail: WR Travis Benjamin led the Browns in receiving in the first half with three receptions for 71 yards, while TE Gary Barnidge had three catches for 42. Benjamin had one reception for 61 yards that set up the Browns first score. Benjamin was the leading receiver with seven receptions for 113 yards (16.1 avg.). WR Andrew Hawkins had seven catches for 69 yards before leaving with a concussion. WR Brian Hartline had six catches for 77 yards and TE Gary Barnidge had six receptions for 65 yards and the Browns only touchdown. 

Poyer Pick: DB Jordan Poyer had the Browns only interception, while DB K’Waun Williams had a fumble recovery.

Sack: LB Chris Kirksey had the Browns only sack on QB Ben Roethlisberger. LB Karlos Dansby led the Browns with six tackles.

Hawk Down: WR Andrew Hawkins was being evaluated for a concussion after being hit in the head on DB Mike Mitchell’s interception in the end zone. He was ruled out for the game. Hawkins had just returned after missing the previous week with a concussion. DL Randy Starks injured his knee and did not return. WR Taylor Gabriel was taken from the game for a concussion evaluation. 

Fumble: DB K’Waun Williams recovered a fumble after DB Charles Gaines stripped Bryant of the ball after a 64 yard gain. Gaines played in his first NFL game and had five tackles.

Captains: WR Andrew Hawkins, DB K’Waun Williams, P Andy Lee and LB Barkevious Mingo were the captains. The Browns won the toss but elected to defer to the second half.

Duke: RB Duke Johnson took the place of DB Justin Gilbert at kickoff return man and averaged 26 yards a return.

Cam Erving Debut: First round pick OL Cameron Erving had a rough opening start. He had a holding call when the Browns were driving. He also had a holding call that took away a touchdown by RB Isaiah Crowell.

“I thought I did pretty well,” Erving said. “There’s always things to improve upon.”

Long Drought: The Browns haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2003.

No Go: As expected, QB Josh McCown was inactive and QB Johnny Manziel got his third start of the season in McCown’s place. Besides Joe Haden (concussion), Donte Whitner (concussion) and Joel Bitonio (ankle), who were all declared out earlier this week, inactive was Dwayne Bowe, Justin Gilbert and E.J. Bibbs.

Bowe caught his first passes of the season last week and was relegated back to the inactive list with the return of Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline to the lineup. Bowe was a high priced free agent signing in the off-season, who has made little impact. 

Gilbert was the eighth overall pick of the Browns in 2014, while Haden was a first round pick and Bitonio was a high second round pick. 

Other inactive for the Steelers besides Vick were: Shamarko Thomas, Isaiah Pead, Terence Garvin, Byron Stingily, Matt Spaeth and James Harrison. 

Pettine was asked why Gilbert was inactive.

“It was a situation with Gaines,” he said. “We wanted to get Charles Gaines some work. From a returner standpoint, we felt comfortable with Duke Johnson and Marlon Moore that we had those bases covered. Again, we wanted to come up with our position minimums and then back-fill it with special teams.”

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