Would the Bills ever consider benching their first-round pick?
Asked last Friday by WGR 550 if he would consider replacing EJ Manuel with backup Thad Lewis if Manuel "looked rusty" in his return, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone seemed to hint at that possibility.
"Yeah, I'm willing to make the call on that," Marrone told the radio station. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to win. That's my job."
In the first half of the Bills' 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Manuel went 6-for-13 passing for 43 yards. Manuel's completion percentage and yards per attempt through two quarters were both season lows for the Bills, but Marrone said after the game that he didn't consider inserting Lewis in place of Manuel.
That led to the following question Monday: What sort of performance would it take for that swap to happen?
"That’s the problem with asking questions with me. The question was asked, ‘Would you ever consider going to Thad Lewis during a game?’ My answer was ‘Yes’ and it was never followed up with, ‘What would that situation be?’ I’ll answer that situation now," Marrone said. "If EJ Manuel looked like he was hurt out there or that prior injury was hurting him to be productive or he was taking too many shots where he was being put in a situation where we couldn’t protect him and those things were going on? Then yes I would have put Thad Lewis in there and that was the situation I was looking for, which didn’t occur [Sunday]."
In his response, Marrone made it clear that -- at least for now -- the Bills are going to stick with Manuel, unless his health becomes a factor.
If the Bills were to flip back to Lewis, though, could they expect an improvement in their overall play?
Here's what the statistics say: In his three starts this season, Lewis had a completion percentage of 60.2, gained 6.33 yards per passing attempt, had a passer rating of 80.2 and a QBR of 19.1.
Manuel, in his six starts, has a completion percentage of 56.6, has gained 6.03 yards per passing attempt, has a passer rating of 76.2 and a QBR of 40.7.
No matter the choice, Marrone believes that expectations of Manuel, as a first-round pick, and Lewis, as a practice squad call-up, play a part in how their performances are perceived.
"What’s the level of expectations for Thad from around the league, from the media, from everything else? Not really a lot. Now that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of expectations for Thad Lewis and the Buffalo Bills as a team for what he has to do. It’s a lot easier to play this game when there’s not a lot of pressure and not a lot of expectation, especially at the quarterback position," Marrone said. "Now we have EJ Manuel who was our first pick in the first round. Expectations coming off, words like franchise quarterback things like that. Those things you have to develop, very few players if any have come in here and just taken this league by surprise, especially ones that have missed practice time, which he has, and that’s been obviously documented in the preseason and he’s coming off four weeks."
Asked if Manuel's struggles are testing the patience of veteran players around him -- something that wide receiver Stevie Johnson suggested earlier Monday -- Marrone didn't hesitate in his response.
"Yes," he said.
However, he feels that the locker room is still on the same page, buying into the need to bring Manuel along, bumps in the road and all.
"Absolutely," he said. "If they’re not [on the same page] then they shouldn’t be here."
Second-year wide receiver T.J. Graham played nearly every snap in Sunday's loss but finished with just one catch for 5 yards. Asked about Graham's performance, Marrone placed some of the blame on Manuel.
"We have to get him to play better. We see and we know, as we say every day, this is a quarterback driven league," Marrone said. "You look at the teams where the starting quarterbacks are out or the quarterbacks that are titled non-franchise quarterbacks, those teams struggle to win. We’re building a franchise quarterback and that’s what we’re trying to get done."