In the wake of a lop-sided loss against the Tampa Bay Buccanneers, the theme of the day seems to be protecting E.J. Manuel. And not just from defensive linemen.
Manuel had arguably his worst performance of the season on Sunday, going 18-for-33 passing and tossing four interceptions — a key reason the Bills lost 27-6 to a team that struggled to move the ball aside from Bobby Rainey’s 80-yard scamper to start the game.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Manuel’s performance this season has been so up and down. Most rookie quarterbacks go through these types of highs and lows in their development. The big issue for Manuel is that, while he looks so dynamic in the friendly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium, he looks… Much less than so far away from it. Two of his worst starts this season have been road games against the Bucs and New York Jets.
Part of the problem in both of those games was the ineffectiveness of the running game. Normally, the backs are able to carve up defenses and pick up large chunks of yards throughout the game. On Sunday, the Bills managed just 67 yards on 22 carries. Hard to overcome that.
Even more difficult? The seven sacks that Manuel took. It doesn’t matter who you are in the NFL: if you’re consistently facing pressure, it’s hard for you to do much of anything. Quarterbacks need time and protection to make plays and Manuel hasn’t been given the fairest of shakes on that account.
The Bills still have some kinks to work out with the offensive line and may still be a piece or two away on that front. But the fact of the matter is that Manuel clearly plays better at home than he does on the road. Maybe coach Doug Marrone and his staff will have to look into simplifying things when they travel so that Manuel can focus on just making plays and not have to worry about making detailed calls.
Perhaps simplifying things will help him gain the confidence he needs to succeed on the road and they can reintroduce him to a much thicker playbook down the line. After all, he’s still just a rookie. These growing pains happen and it’s certainly not the time to panic.
Baby steps. The rookie is still growing every day, every game. Patience will go a long way.