EJ Manuel Starts Slow, Finishes Strong in Buffalo Bills' Preseason Opener

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IAugust 11, 2013

Aug 11, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) gestures at the line of scrimmage during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Up-and-down play is expected from everyone in the preseason, and that's exactly what we got from Bills quarterback EJ Manuel. His performance encapsulated both sides of the argument for and against the Bills making him the first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL draft.

He did well timing throws, and he showed off his legs with an impressive 24-yard scramble and a four-yard designed quarterback draw that picked up a first down.

But there were stretches, especially at the start, where Manuel did not throw with accuracy. He fired wide of his target on his first pass attempt, a 10-yard in-route by wide receiver Robert Woods. Later, on 3rd-and-2 in the second quarter, he had a clean pocket and all the time he needed to hit a wide-open Chris Hogan on a slant over the middle, and he delivered the ball low and wide of his target.

Once he settled in, however, the Bills offense began moving.

Manuel drove the Bills 92 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown in one minute and 32 seconds, capping it off with an impressive 17-yard throw to tight end Dorin Dickerson against a safety down the seam. Other than the first two passes on that drive, completions of five and four yards respectively, he was on target and in rhythm.

It took him a while to get there, though. In fact, it took Manuel four attempts to complete a pass that actually gained yards; his first completion was a six-yard loss on a screen to running back Fred Jackson in which Manuel let go of the ball too soon.

The Bills coaching staff also didn't make life terribly difficult for him. Of his 21 first-half pass attempts, seven were slants, six were dump-offs or screens and three were curls, comprising 16 of his total attempts; he only missed his target on three of those throws.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with a coaching staff making life easy for the quarterback, but it's fair to wonder what will happen when corners start disrupting the timing between Manuel and his receivers, when the quarterback will have to go through his progressions.

It's also noteworthy that Manuel didn't really come out of his shell until the Colts' first-team defense was already on the bench for the most part. In that sense, one has to wonder how different the narrative might be if quarterback Kevin Kolb had played in Sunday's game; he would have likely played the snaps when Manuel was finally hitting his groove.

Sunday was an important first step in Manuel's transition to becoming an NFL quarterback, but he won't have the luxury of getting into rhythm against second-stringers much longer. He needs to capitalize on opportunities like this until the rhythm feels like second nature.



Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.