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Are we falling of a cliff? I say no.

Bills: How big is the drop-off?



While Bills fans bemoan their existences and take wild swings at what kind of quarterback new starter Thad Lewis might be, let me take you in a different direction.

Instead of guessing at how good Lewis will be, let's figure out how good EJ Manuel was.

Criticizing a highly touted rookie early in his first year is something you don't want to do. As open and honest as our jobs require us to be, this is still a controversial route that isn't much worth taking. Fans will tolerate a certain level of critical analysis, but put down the rookie quarterback too much and they will tune you out. And I don't want that.

But it's still important to be honest about what Manuel has done -- without venturing necessarily into what it might tell us he'll become.

I looked at some stats today. (Don't worry, they were the basic kind.) Here are Manuel's rankings so far in 2013:

Yards per pass: 24.
Completion percentage: 26.
Touchdowns: T-22.
Yards per game: 29.

(If you do want the advanced kind, head to advancednflstats.com. Those passing stats aren't good-looking either. See the one called "EPA/P", or Expected Points Added per play. Notice that the Bills trail every team in the NFL in this category except Jacksonville. Jacksonville is contending for worst team in NFL history.)

The Bills' passing offense, by any reasonable measure, has been below average in 2013. The Bills are running plays at about the fastest pace in the league, yet their production is light -- especially through the air. EJ Manuel is the quarterback.

It is true that the Bills have played good defenses. In my mind they've played one in each game; New England perhaps is the weakest of the five they've seen. That's arguable of course. Cincinnati is tough too.

That's fine if you think Thad Lewis won't be very good. Logic tells me that's probably right. There is an importance allowance to make for how quarterbacks fit into offenses, and it's possible that Lewis is a good fit in what the Bills run. The Bills obviously think he is. Still, in a league where quarterbacking is everything he's among the many that drift along as free agents and practice-squad players, only seeing time in an emergency. It is very rare a player of this repute excels.

But how good was Manuel? The stats are relatively poor. Colleague Joe Buscaglia tells us from watching game films repeatedly that there are frequently open receivers all over the field that don't get the ball.

The Bills' defense is decent, and it's about to get healthier with Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd expected to join the lineup. That will bring them practically to their on-paper best defensive unit. Cincinnati has scored 19 points in its last two games and Sunday's game is here.

I have no idea if the Bills will beat Cincinnati. People have spent hours formulating predictions for these Bills games, yet all five games had a difference of only one score with two minutes to play. Seems to me all that analysis is wasteful when there is so little to separate these teams, especially when accounting for luck.

But maybe they will. Maybe you should expect Thad Lewis to be hardly a downgrade from EJ Manuel, if he's one at all.

That's what I'm going to do.

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Topics : Sports
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Locations : CincinnatiJacksonvilleNew England
People : Jairus ByrdJoe BuscagliaManuelStephon GilmoreThad Lewis
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