EJ Manuel May Be Greatest Beneficiary Of Marrone’s Departure

It seems logical to assume that the Buffalo Bills defense will benefit from having Rex Ryan as their head coach. However, there are also many reasons to believe that Ryan could live up to his word about committing to improve his record on the offensive side of the ball as well.

On the surface, it appears that over time Rex Ryan massively failed on the offensive side of the ball throughout his tenure with the Jets. Though he had Mark Sanchez playing out of his mind the first couple of years, his track record at developing quarterbacks (and any consistently successful offense) was questionable at best.

Some of the blame for that result lies directly on Rex, and it appears he is all too aware of his shortcomings in that regard. During his introductory press conference, he mentioned his lack of success on that side of the ball. Ryan also referenced how head coaches in their second stint tend to become much more successful the second time around. Rex knows he will be judged harshly if the Bills cannot solve their offensive woes next season.

The one thing we all know about Rex Ryan is that what you see is what you get. No more hidden agendas, or mean-spirited dysfunction poisoning of a workplace. Doug Marrone’s departure collectively and instantly lifted the mood at One Bills Drive.

It’s probably a lot more fun going to work these days for all of the wonderful people working with the Bills organization. After many years of consultation work assessing group dynamics in the workplace, I have seen the effects of what happens when a radioactive ‘leader’ wreaks havoc. It’s not pretty.

Back to the Bills offensive woes. Throughout Marrone’s tenure with the Bills, I noted several things that bothered me about his offense. The offensive line regressed throughout the season, and that was a red flag that started flashing a huge warning sign. Offensive line play requires timing and precision. That should be getting better as the season progresses, and the Bills offensive line got worse, if that’s possible.

That issue alone gave me such heartburn, and led me to suspect all season long that there was something ‘hinkie’ going on behind the scenes that outside observers were not privy. Then there came the benching of EJ Manuel, which in and of itself was not all that surprising at the time.

However, after Marrone’s epic meltdown and opt-out of his contract with the Bills, more information started leaking out about what was really going on at One Bills Drive in terms of tension in the workplace. It was eyebrow raising, but at the same time confirmed much of my skepticism and suspicions that something was rotten on the home front.

EJ Manuel looked confident in 2014's Training Camp, but couldn't translate his success on Sunday's.
EJ Manuel looked confident in 2014’s Training Camp, but couldn’t translate his success on Sunday’s.

If you’ve suffered reading through my ‘wyobabble’ for the last year and then some, you likely remember some discussion about my belief that EJ Manuel was having performance anxiety. Recall my comments on Twitter from last summer at training camp, and how Manuel looked so much more relaxed in that setting. His performance at camp seemed to reflect his comfort level at the time. Then, inexplicably, and much like the offensive line, when it came down to translating those skills on Sunday in the fall, there was a huge disconnect. That was another huge red flag for me.

I wrote about why I believed EJ Manuel had performance anxiety last season, and why his basic personality type (people-pleaser) was not a good fit with what demands were being placed upon him. Then Marrone benched him, which in retrospect may have been yet another blessing.

Marrone did not get a chance to destroy what little confidence Manuel was able to muster for himself, given what appears to have been a highly dysfunctional workplace. Putting him in mothballs at the very least prevented more damage to his psyche.

With 14 games under his belt, EJ Manuel may now be finally ready to compete and succeed in becoming an effective quarterback in the NFL. And though many may think that having Rex Ryan as a head coach is a drawback because of his alleged lack of concern on the offensive side of the ball, it may turn out to be a blessing for both.

Rex Ryan could be the motivator that EJ Manuel needs to make the next step in his career.
Rex Ryan could be the motivator that EJ Manuel needs to make the next step in his career.

Rex Ryan is the exact antidote Manuel needs right now. Rex is a master at motivating human behavior, and I can hardly wait to watch him empower EJ by bonding with him. Maybe Rex will get an EJ tattoo for the total ‘bromance’ experience at some point. You never know. Regardless of the hype and the bluster, Rex is acutely aware of Manuel’s physical talent and need for confidence. What Rex doesn’t get enough credit for is how cogently he works his magic with guys in need of emotional validation, not criticism and hostility.

That stated, I expect Rex Ryan to be more focused this time around with respect to infusing the offense with more of his infectious optimism, as well as just giving them more attention in general. He will likely let Greg Roman do his thing, but I believe we will see Rex more involved in terms of bonding with his quarterback and offense.

It’s understandable that Rex has his critics with respect to whiffing at selecting and developing young quarterbacks. Sanchez did regress over time, and the jury is still out on Geno Smith. However, I have to give Rex the benefit of the doubt with respect to the selection of those quarterbacks.

For the record, Geno Smith had a career game to close the season against the Dolphins. That game went under the radar for most fans because they were paying attention to games with meaningful playoff implications. Sure, it was the Dolphins, whose players seem to care about the game only marginally more than their scarce fan base.

That game was a statement game by Geno, only I’m not exactly sure what it says. He definitely has physical talent. However, you can’t fix stupid. When you can’t tell time zone changes and you don’t show up for the end of season meetings, you are likely not going to be headed for Canton anytime soon.

That’s not a coaching issue, that’s a personal issue Geno either needs to figure out, or be doomed to the same fate as many other quarterbacks in the NFL that flame out. We don’t know how much Rex wanted Geno, or whether this was a pick made much like the Manziel pick, so I just cannot throw a lot of blame about Geno’s failings on Rex Ryan.

There is evidence that suggests the general manager handcuffed Rex as far as spending money to bring in talent since they were well under the salary cap last season. Then there was the ‘Hail Mary’ signing of Percy Harvin, which smacked of a desperation move by the Jets general manager.

Letting Revis walk was also a kick in the groin for Rex. Like Andy Reid, he may have been the baby that was thrown out with the bath water in New Jersey. However, if the Bills can get the same kind of productivity improvement that Kansas City got after Reid was hired there, the Bills will be back in the playoffs sooner than later.

It’s evident that the goal of reaching the playoffs next season will rest upon a identifying a quarterback that will have at least a modicum of success running Roman’s offense. The other key element (and arguably more so) is getting an offensive line to be able to function as Rex wants; big uglies with a mean streak that can run block.

By emphasizing the running game, it naturally takes the pressure off the quarterback to be perfect. This type of of offense would be ideal for EJ. It would help get him back in the saddle and thrive.

The most important thing Rex and his staff can (and I believe will) do for EJ is take off the shackles and let him play the style of football that suits him best. Forcing him to be a pocket passer was almost as horrendous a mistake as moving Pears to right guard.

EJ Manuel may surprise some people and pull it together and become the franchise quarterback the Bills hoped he would be when they drafted him. The best chance of that happening will come from allowing him to grow more naturally into his role.

For all the devastation that Marrone wreaked in his time as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, he may have done more than one favor for EJ Manuel in spite of himself. By benching Manuel, Marrone may have preserved him from further psychological harm.

Bills fans may come to find that the answer to the quarterback question is ready and poised to be answered. Manuel now finds himself in the driver’s seat of his own destiny. With a supportive head coach that understands how to grow his confidence, EJ will have every opportunity to become the quarterback we all hope he will become next season.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at BuffaloFAMbase.com. She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.