Wednesday, September 18, 2013
QB Watch: Bills' EJ Manuel
By Mike Rodak
A weekly analysis of the Bills' quarterback play.
Rewind: In his second career start, EJ Manuel led the Buffalo Bills on an 80-yard, game-winning drive with no timeouts remaining for a dramatic 24-23 win over the Carolina Panthers. He finished 27-of-39 for 296 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. It was the sort of performance that excited a city starved for good quarterback play, but head coach Doug Marrone said Monday that Manuel committed mistakes in the game that coaches did not expect him to make. He was fortunate that, after turning the ball over twice in his own territory, the Bills' red zone defense (ranked seventh in the NFL) was able to bail him out. Marrone said they'll work with Manuel to clean up what he characterized as questionable decision-making.
Fast-forward: The New York Jets' defense poses the toughest challenge for Manuel so far this season. Jets defenders have already told Manuel to be on the lookout for the blitz, and it would hardly be shocking if Rex Ryan dialed up even more pressure for the rookie. Even with the speed the Bills have on the outside, I think the Jets will take their chances with Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner in man-to-man coverage and try to make Manuel beat them with his arm. The rookie has been up and down when throwing downfield. Up front, Manuel will have to keep an eye out for defensive end Mo Wilkerson, who is on the rise.
Road test: The Bills will bring their up-tempo offense on the road for the first time this season. Even though it's not often considered among the NFL's loudest venues, MetLife Stadium has the second-largest capacity in the league, with wraparound seating that doesn't allow much sound to escape. It will be a good test for Manuel's ability to manage the no-huddle offense facing a hostile crowd. Last week, Marrone praised Manuel for keeping his composure even when the coach-to-quarterback communication system went out.
Prediction: I think it's reasonable to expect Manuel's performance to dip, going against a strong defense, on the road. The key for Manuel, as it has been, will be to avoid making mistakes. It will be a tough game for him to go over 300 yards passing or throw more than one touchdown. The defenses will decide this game.