Buffalo Bills: The E.J. Manuel question


E.J. Manuel needs to improve to become “the guy” this preseason.

With the season opener against the Chicago Bears less than a month away, it’s time to start thinking about what to expect from second year quarterback E.J. Manuel. Will he be able to stay healthy? Is he going to be the quarterback of the future? Will he be able to galvanize the city and show another generation of Buffalo Bills fans what it’s like to have a winning team? Is he “the guy”?

To determine the last question, I came up with four check points of what it takes to be “the guy” when it comes to NFL quarterbacks.

  1. In the last 2 minutes of a close game, do you trust him to lead the team down the field and score/ hold on to the lead?
  2. Does he limit his mistakes and when he does make a mistake, does he have a short term memory and shake it off the next drive?
  3. Does he scan the field and progress through his reads efficiently, making the best decision possible?
  4. Can he sustain a long drive and get into the end-zone rather than settling for a field goal?

So let’s go through the handy-dandy checklist that I came up with 2 minutes ago.

1. In the last 2 minutes of a close game, do you trust him to lead the team down the field and score/hold on to the lead?

Manuel was put in four of these situations in his 10 games last year. The first came week one against the Evil Empire Patriots. In the closing minutes, all Manuel had to do was hold on to the ball and run some clock. He went 3-and-out and gave Brady the ball back with plenty of time to lead his team down for a winning field goal.

In week two against the Panthers, he led the Bills down the field for a beautiful game-winning touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson in the corner of the end-zone.

In week four, Manuel led the Bills to a field goal, leaving Joe Flacco only a minute to score, in which the defense held strong.

Lastly, in week 13 against the Falcons in Toronto, Manuel failed to get a drive going in his final possession and Matt Ryan was able to lead his team to a game-winning field goal. So in his truncated season, he went 2-2 in this department.

Decision: Umm…I was going to say no decision but that would be anti-climactic. I’ll give him a check based on his small sample size. 2-2 isn’t terrible for a rookie who missed half of training camp and 6 regular season games right?

2. Does he limit his mistakes and when he does make a mistake, does he have a short term memory and shake it off the next drive?

In 2013, Manuel was responsible for 12 turnovers. 9 interceptions (against 11 touchdowns) and 3 lost fumbles.

This is a problem. Having more turnovers than touchdowns is not a recipe for a successful career. This is something that he needs to work on; limiting those mistakes.

As far as short term memory goes, he wasn’t bad. Manuel is a very composed quarterback. You never see him throwing his helmet at the bench after a bad play or screaming at his linemen after he gets sacked (see Cutler, Jay). He’s always been very mature and a real pro.

Decision: Half check.

3. Does he scan the field and progress through his reads efficiently, making the best decision possible?

This is where things get a little dicey. Reminder, I am not an NFL quarterback. I’m not even an intermural quarterback. I am, however, a decent arm chair quarterback.

No ESPY for that unfortunately.

Anyways, it seems that Manuel is either slow going through his reads or doesn’t do it at all. Last year, Manuel checked the ball down to his running backs more than he looked downfield to his receivers. He doesn’t have the confidence to stay in the pocket and go through his 2nd and 3rd reads if his 1st isn’t there.

This also has a lot to do with the offensive line, which was shaky at best last year. Either way, I need to see more passes over 10 yards. Drew Brees doesn’t throw for 350 yards a game checking it down to his running backs 20 times. I want Manuel to use his strong arm and sling it around the yard a little bit rather than tossing bloopers to his backs.

Decision: No check.

4. Can he sustain a long drive and get into the end-zone rather than settling for a field goal?

This is where Manuel struggled the most last season. He endured a lot of three-and-outs. This not only hurts the offense, but gasses the defense.

Buffalo ran a quick no huddle offense last year and a three-and-out only used about a minute and a half game time before they were punting it away. With the dead time and commercial breaks and what not, this is about 10ish minutes real time before the D has to go back out there. This can wear down a defense over the course of a game. Last season, the Bills were 29th in the league on converting on third down. Manuel and the team as a whole need to become more efficient on third down if they want any shot at the playoffs.

When it comes to red-zone efficiency, it’s another sad, sad, song (POISON REFERENCE!). They also ranked 29th in the league when it came to red-zone touchdowns. This means that when Manuel gets inside the 25, he can’t capitalize with a touchdown. Way too many field goals.

So far in the preseason, E.J. and the starters have yet to find the end-zone so this is still a work in progress. It’s just preseason, but I want to see the 1’s put 6 on the board at least once in these exhibition games.

Decision: No check.

Look, I get it. Manuel is only in his 2nd season. I can already see the comments telling me to back off and let him grow. Not everyone is Andrew Luck. But, is it wrong of me to expect a first round draft pick to at least show signs that he will one day check off all of these boxes? I want to see growth. I want him to become Buffalo’s first Pro Bowl quarterback since Doug Flutie.

This season there are no excuses. He’s had a full training camp (furiously knocking on wood) and the Bills have given him plenty of receivers to throw to. They went and got Mike Williams, who is a big target for him to throw up jump balls, and drafted Sammy Watkins, who is an absolute freak athlete. Returning from last year they have Robert Woods, who has shown that he is a viable possession receiver (leading the team in receiving yards this preseason), Marquise Goodwin, who is one of the fastest guys in the league, a solid tight end in Scott Chandler, and one of the best running back tandems in the NFL in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

On paper, this offense should put up a lot of points. It’s up to Manuel to lead them. It’s up to Manuel to get these play makers the ball. It’s up to Manuel to lead this team to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The juice is yours E.J.

  • Wayne Lester

    The first string offense has only 5 trips in the red zone in 3 games so far… So thats an average of 1.4 trips to the red zone per game and taking account that the first string only played about 2 quarters per game means their average would be 2.8 red zone trips per full game… ok so that means the Bills will average 3×7= 21 points per game IF they score a touch down EVERYTIME they get into the red zone (which is exactly what the offense averaged in points per game last year). Since the Bills offense is still averaging the same as last year and the defense lost Kiko Alonso and Jarius Byrd (which negates any new players on defense this year) and they also have a new defensive coordinator again… this year would put the Bills back at 6-10 for this year… BUT considering the Bills only played 3 playoff teams last year (Kansas City, Carolina and New England) and play 5 playoff teams this year (San Diego, New England, Kansas City, Denver and Green Bay) this will put the bills at 4-12 for the season.

    My prediction: Bills lose to Tampa Bay by 6 points.

    “You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe (like EJ will take the Bills to the playoffs). You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole (playoff drought) goes. Remember — all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.”

    A Bills Fan since 1978.

    • Sean Rogers

      Wow…that’s gotta be in the top-3 of “best comments I’ve ever received”. You depressed me with stats, made me question my optimism for this season, and successfully incorporated a “Matrix” reference. Well done sir. Well done.

  • Wayne Lester

    The answer to all the EJ questions is NO… It’s “Tuel Time”!!!… Jeff Tuel has a better passing rating (overall and red zone) and he will be starting for the Bills before the season is over… if the team hasn’t already decided to pick up a real starting quarterback before the season starts.

    • Kerry Fitzpatrick

      LOL @ the idea of putting any energy into arguing over Tuel vs. EJ Manuel. It’s like arguing if nails or concrete make a better dessert topping.