Browns QB Josh McCown still out with injured ribs, will start over Johnny Manziel if healthy

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BEREA, Ohio — The cries to start Johnny Manziel are growing louder by the loss.

Browns coach Mike Pettine hears them, and so far is ignoring them.

Pettine said Tuesday that quarterback Josh McCown, who remains sidelined with injured ribs, will start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers — as long as he's physically able.

Pettine spent part of a long weekend off discussing Cleveland's QB situation with his staff and came to the conclusion that a healthy McCown is a better option than Manziel.

"We've said all along that Josh McCown started the season as our No. 1 quarterback, and he's been out due to injury and potentially coming back," Pettine said. "I get the call for 'Hey, why not?' but we're tasked as coaches to put the roster out there that's going to give us the best opportunity to win. I understand that as the year goes on those circumstances can change, but we'll see."

McCown initially injured his ribs on Oct. 25 at St. Louis and aggravated them the following week against Arizona. Last week he was having trouble breathing and sleeping.

Pettine said McCown's health is "improving" but he remains "day to day." The Browns (2-7) are eager to find out if he can play as soon as possible.

"That's not a decision, especially with the quarterback, that you want to wait until the end of the week," Pettine said.

Manziel started in place of the 36-year-old McCown last week in Cincinnati, and the second-year QB may be called upon again to face the Steelers (5-4) if McCown isn't cleared.

Manziel had an impressive first half against the unbeaten Bengals. But they adjusted at halftime, kept him from scrambling outside the pocket and rolled to a 31-10 win. Manziel finished 15 of 33 for 168 yards and one touchdown, but he was just 4 of 15 for 40 yards in the second half.

While the performance showed some of those Johnny Football flashes, it's unclear whether Manziel can be a quality NFL starter.

The only way for the Browns to find out is to play Manziel, but Pettine hasn't reached that point. Although another season in Cleveland is spiraling downward, Pettine isn't ready to look toward the future and begin benching veterans in favor of developing younger players.

"It's something that you have to walk that fine line between forcing it — 'Hey, listen, we're just going to wholesale play these players,'" Pettine said. "It's a disservice to the other guys in the room. We're tasked with winning football games. At the point, essentially just past the midway point, I understand that talk is there, especially at the quarterback position, but from a coaching standpoint, the thinking is a little different."

Manziel is 1-1 as a starter this season. The 22-year-old, who remains under NFL investigation for a recent domestic incident, has completed 43 of 83 passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

His statistics look OK, but Manziel's inability to step up and make throws under pressure has driven the belief that he can't have lasting success as a pro.

Pettine, though, said Manziel has shown potential to become an effective pocket passer.

"He's improved," Pettine said. "I think there were some instances the other night that that didn't happen. There were some examples, not just in the Cincinnati game, but going back to (Week 2 against) Tennessee and in practice and the (Week 1) Jets game where he's proven that he can. We knew it would take some time for him to be able to adapt. He's getting better. To me, he's headed in the right direction."

NOTES: The subject of trade talks with Denver last week, T Joe Thomas made it clear that he never wanted to be dealt, never asked to be traded and neither he nor his agent took part in any negotiations with the Broncos. "I know a lot of guys really would do anything to get out of a losing situation, but that's not my mentality," the eight-time Pro Bowler said. "I want to be here to try to turn it around."... CB Joe Haden and S Donte Whitner remain in the NFL's concussion protocol and did not practice. ... WRs Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins returned after missing last week's game with concussions. ... Starting LG Joel Bitonio will miss the game in Pittsburgh and is expected to be out "for a while" with a sprained ankle.

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