E.J. Manuel made his long-awaited return to the Buffalo Bills lineup on Sunday after a month-long absence. The results weren’t what Manuel and Bills fans were hoping for. He finished 22-of-39 for 155 yards with a TD and an INT. Manuel and the offense couldn’t get going all day long and fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 23-10.
Manuel had 11 of his 22 completions on the final drive of the game. He had a meager per completion average of 7.04 yards. While he was timid in the pocket and erratic at times you can’t put it all on him. There were numerous drops by receivers on balls that should have been caught. If the Bills want to take the next step at some point then they will need guys who can hold onto the ball. Manuel really missed fellow rookie Robert Woods who has been his most reliable target all season long.
The other issue for the Bills is that their running game couldn’t get going against a weak Pittsburgh run defense. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson were held in check for most of the day, and things didn’t really open up for Manuel in the middle of the field since the run wasn’t as much of a threat.
CBS analyst Rich Gannon made a great analysis towards the end of the game. He said that Manuel should spend less time in the shotgun and more time under center. For starters he’d have a few extra seconds to scan the field rather than taking the shotgun snap and having to set his backfield before he even starts to scan. The other reason is that play action would be far more effective under center. They used Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel under center when they were in the lineup, and I see no reason why Manuel wouldn’t be used in the same formations.
It could be another tough game for Manuel and the Bills next week against the New York Jets. Rookie OC Nathaniel Hackett has had trouble against attacking 3-4 defenses and already struggled once against Rex Ryan‘s crew. It seems like the Bills desperately need a change of game plan or it may be another long day for their rookie QB.