Every once in awhile I like to take a mental trip around the NFL and get a quick read on how QBs are faring. These days I’m comparing rookie and second year QBs as a way to gauge how EJ Manuel stacks up against his peers. Putting it in 140 characters or less, the jury is still out.
Being closer to the Ted Nolan type of talent assessor, I tend to rely on behavioral parameters and the “eyeball tests” that complement the x’s and o’s of a player, rather than considering only analytics associated with said player. Young players in particular are vulnerable to being duped by savvy defensive coordinators who prey on their inexperience with glee.
The term “greenhorn” is a wink and a sarcastic reference to young and inexperienced cowboys. In square states in the middle of the country, this term is often associated with the stupidity of youth, and mistakes that we all make in order to gain wisdom through experience.
So, once in awhile I will post a ‘Greenhorn Report’ here in an attempt to sort through some of the volatile reactions fans seem to experience when our own ‘greenhorn’ QB EJ Manuel poops the bed. Since QBs take more of the blame and praise than they should at any given point during the season, we also should consider the men around EJ who are supposed to protect him and give him time in the pocket.
How long are we going to continue to ignore our very own “Eric Island?” You know, the Bills center that has been on an island in the middle of the offensive line since Andy Levitre left? The entire offensive line is also a ‘greenhorn’ at this point.
OK, we’ll get to that part too, but first let’s look at some of the other greenhorn QBs around the league and how they are faring. The obvious guy Manuel is compared with is Geno Smith. Remember, this is all about the eyeball test, not the analytics of convergence and divergence.
The only thing I can say with any certainty about Geno Smith in the limited time spent observing him is that he does not in any way appear to be demonstrably better or worse than EJ Manuel at this point in time.
Everywhere you look on the highway to hell (that is the NFL these days), you find the road is littered with the carcasses of greenhorn QBs left for dead before they ever had a chance to learn the job. Their scattered remains are moved around from team to team like vultures moving carrion in the middle of the winter.
There are far more Blaine Gabberts, Terrelle Pryors, and Jake Lockers than Andrew Luck types in this league. At this point, the hyenas are even out in full force feasting on Robert Griffin III now. This week Ryan Tannehill is even getting excoriated more than EJ Manuel.
The way that teams develop QB talent in the NFL now is a vastly different landscape than even ten years ago. Ten years ago the Bills were already five years in to what seems like a never-ending playoff drought. And a great deal of the reason for that drought was the failure on the part of previous regimes to properly nurture and develop greenhorn QBs.
If you examine where young QBs have been successful (Seattle and Indianapolis), look no further than at their respective offensive lines to see the difference they make in the development of inexperienced QBs. When Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe, his development skyrocketed in no small part because they had the foundation in place for a dynasty built around offensive linemen giving Brady an eternity to throw the ball.
There were several glaring areas of deficiencies that were painfully obvious in the Bills loss against San Diego last Sunday. The rest of the sports media world has outlined a myriad of reasons why the Bills lost last Sunday. I’ll spare you the analytics, we all know what we saw.
From the view above my bifocals, I saw a whole lot of push up the middle flushing EJ out of his comfort zone. Once Manuel is bothered in the slightest of ways, he still shows signs of performance anxiety and does not read the field very well when hurried. I maintain my stance that this is a performance anxiety issue that should be looked at more seriously than just telling EJ to “calm down.”
It’s a simple blueprint to beat the Bills these days (or any team with an inexperienced QB). Put pressure on the QB (Manuel) and force him to beat you in a battle of wills. Watching Manuel panic and make bad decisions such as taking a safety like he did last Sunday are understandably frustrating to watch.
There is absolute justification why Bills fans overreact when the team lays an egg, and especially when Manuel has a dismal performance. There is no denying we are at our wits end as a fan base. There is little or no reserve left for “rebuilding” at this point.
It remains concerning that this young team has little experience dealing with a fan base that has put up with horrific performances for nearly two decades (and all the other threats to the franchise). They don’t understand that our short fuse that leads to the crowd booing them at The Ralph comes from too little thrill of victory, and way too much agony of defeat for way, way, way too long.
The disconnect between what this young team understands about chronic losing, and what the fan base is willing to endure in terms of growing pains got wider after the loss last Sunday. Regardless, the only way out of this perpetual cycle of losing is to do what Mario Williams said this week, as well as many other players since the preseason. Win and all the questions and issues regarding this team will magically disappear.
However, we are no longer a society that is willing to endure long periods of suffering in any respect without revolting. In a purely economic sense, there are arguably only a couple of teams in the NFL where the fan base has received a worse return on their investment than Bills fans have endured over the course of more than 50 years. In this case, the return on investment (ROI) would be defined as a team that wins on a consistent basis.
You would be hard pressed to find a fan base more accommodating to forgive than the Bills fan base. When I read substantive and passionate arguments regarding the reasons the Bills should consider bringing OG Richie Incognito back to Buffalo to shore up the problems at the offensive guard positions, you KNOW this is a forgiving fan base. Incognito’s trashing of Buffalo and the Bills fan base made Whitner’s ongoing twitter hate-fest with Bills fans seem tame in comparison.
Unfortunately, there is no way to fast-forward Manuel or this team through the greenhorn phase. Worse, without a settled front five on the offensive line, we are likely to continue to see inconsistent play by Manuel as he tries to get better efficiency out of the mother board in his head.
The upcoming game against the Texans will tell us a lot more about this team and it’s seriousness of purpose in taking the next step forward. It’s entirely possible that Manuel may play better away from the pressure of the home crowd. If he lays an egg like he did against Tampa, Pittsburgh or at the Jets last season, he better prepare himself for the wrath of this fan base because the next home game is against the Patriots.
If there is such a thing as a “must win” game in October, that would be it. The Patriots are the stick to which all teams in the AFC East must still measure themselves at this point. With a little luck regarding injuries, better emotional self control by the ‘greenhorn’, and the ability to run the ball effectively, the Bills do have the ability to match win for win and get to the Patriots game with both teams having a 4-1 record.
The lack of points off turnovers (or turnovers in general), the inability to get touchdowns instead of field goals, the porous middle of the offensive line, and the unconscionable number of mind numbing penalties last week will all have to be overcome for the Bills to have a chance to win both upcoming road games against the Texans and Lions.
Furthermore, like it or not, we are not alone as a fan base supporting a greenhorn QB with a patchwork quilt for an offensive line. Look around the league for yourselves and just use your eyeball test instead of relying on a bunch of numbers on a page to see the similarities and struggles that young QBs are having all over the league. Even Kaepernick looks ‘human’ this year at this point in the season.
Even the best and most experienced QBs in history have had difficulty when the offensive line does not give them enough time to read defenses. People are quick to predict the untimely demise of Tom Brady because he is looking rather ordinary these days. Pretty sure that the loss of Logan Mankins is hurting Brady’s numbers more than his age is at this juncture.
Regarding the Bills offensive line woes, it’s obvious that Chris Williams is not a long-term answer at the LG position. He might not even make it as a short-term answer. Putting Richardson in at this point seems like a wash as far as liability, and he will gain some badly needed experience to see what his developmental trend line is like. Here’s hoping his learning curve is more like Henderson’s than Kouandjio’s.
To be fair, this offensive line is as much a work in progress as our greenhorn QB. It’s a set up for failure if you expect more than this offense can reasonably deliver at this point in their development. It’s still early, and the amazing thing about greenhorns is that you never know when they will suddenly turn from dud to stud.
Nothing would put the Bills back on track faster than this defense taking advantage of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s tendencies to be careless with the football. But the defense must generate more turnovers, and most of all start scoring touchdowns instead of field goals when the defense rewards the offense with a takeaway.
In an odd way, both QBs would probably fare better if they performed more like the other. If Manuel were less afraid to make mistakes, and be more of a confident risk taker like Fitzpatrick, he would likely succeed in taking the next step in his development. However, this is one week where I hope Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t as conservative with the ball as Manuel.
Keys to winning this game are not hard to figure out. Run the ball, stop the run, and let Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams pancake Fitz into fumbling the ball, or throwing the INT. Or, perhaps Fitz just needs a reminder from Brandon Spikes about playing in the AFC East?
What are your thoughts about what needs to happen for the Bills to leave Texas with the win? What will this team full of greenhorns need to do to convince Bills fans that we are not doomed to another 6-10 season (or worse)? Feel free to comment below. Your comments are appreciated. Go Bills!