The Buffalo Bills made it official today when they announced that E.J. Manuel will start this week for the first time since spraining his LCL muscle in Week 5. The Bills lost that game and went 1-3 over the four-game stretch that he was sidelined for. Manuel and the Bills will hope to snap a two-game losing streak when they travel to the Steel City to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Thad Lewis did an admirable job replacing Manuel in the first three games of his absence and Jeff Tuel tried last week against the undefeated Chiefs but it’s clear that neither guy will bring as much to the table as Manuel. E.J. is the most polished product that the Bills have at the QB position on the roster. He is the best decision maker and an overall more savvy and smooth player than either Lewis or Tuel. He’s no Andrew Luck but he does have a little bit of an early-career Joe Flacco in him. He’s a guy that will keep you in games by not making that crucial error.
The concern with Manuel in his first games back will be how his knee is going to hold up. Obviously they will encourage him to try and stay in the pocket and only scramble as a last resort. I’d imagine that he will be handing off to C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson a lot. They’ll likely try to get Manuel some easy, high-percentage looks with play-action passes after they establish the run. They’ve got some favorable matchups coming up on their schedule to work the game plan that they’ll want to work.
The Bills lost Manuel for four and 1/2 games but those games are now behind them and it’s time to move forward. It’s all about Manuel’s record as a starter this year. He’s 2-3 including the Cleveland game. They’ve got a schedule in front of them, which could easily let Manuel finish his first year with a record a few games above .500. The Bills will try to set the pace for the rest of the year on Sunday when Manuel returns to the lineup.