After Sunday’s abysmal performance from rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, it’s time for Manuel to prove that he was worth being the first quarterback taken in April’s draft. In the 4 games since returning from injury, he has thrown 4 touchdowns to 5 picks, and only surpassed 200 yards passing twice; one of which was in the overtime game against Atlanta. What’s been going wrong?
Early in the season, the Buffalo Bills’ offense was predicated on the run game. When the Bills weren’t running the ball, Manuel was only asked to throw short check down passes and screens to either C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, or short crossing/slant routes to receivers. This dink and dunk offense was effective to begin the year, when teams didn’t have a season of tape on Marrone’s offense.
Now that we are towards the end of the season, defenses know what to expect. In the past 4 games since Manuel has returned from his knee sprain, Buffalo has struggled to run the ball. Defenses have also keyed in on the dink and dunk, and are forcing Manuel to throw the ball downfield. This is where Manuel has been struggling. Against the Bucs, Manuel had trouble making reads. He wasn’t going through his progressions, often throwing to the first receiver he looked at. When he did have guys open, he was over/under throwing them. He has been wildly erratic, and can’t quite figure out complex NFL defenses.
After the game Sunday, Marrone was asked how he is going to evaluate Manuel through the final 3 games of the season. Marrone responded with “Win”. Marrone also said later in the interview that he was going to simplify the playbook so Manuel doesn’t have as many reads to make when he drops back in the pocket. These are not thing you want to hear from the head coach regarding a rookie quarterback that seems to be regressing as the season goes on.
This however isn’t all Manuel’s fault. Running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, along with the offensive line, have to be able to move the ball on the ground. Also, we need a big receiver, hopefully that wish can be granted in this year’s draft. We have all the speed we need on the outside with rookies Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods. What we are missing is a big target for Manuel to throw some jump balls too. Of the receivers, our tallest wide out is Stevie Johnson who is listed at 6-foot-2. Looking at receiver prospects, 6-foot-5 Mike Evans out of Texas A&M fits the bill.
Please don’t take that as an excuse for Manuel’s poor play, or as me giving up on him. That is not the case. He is still a rookie. We can’t expect every rookie quarterback to have a Luck/RG3/Wilson rookie year. Last year was an anomaly. But, I still expect him to make NFL throws and at this point in the season, be able to understand an NFL level playbook.
This franchise has been tortured over the past few years with less than mediocre quarterbacks like J.P. Losman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trent Edwards, and Brian Holcomb to name a few. The Bills haven’t had a quarterback since Jim Kelly retired in 1996.
So it’s time to for Mr. Erik James Manuel to show this organization that he is going to be our guy moving forward. It’s time to show us fans that we have something to look forward to in the future. These last 3 games is his chance to prove that he will be the starter come next September and many seasons to come. Otherwise, there’s always room on the “less than mediocre quarterbacks” list.
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