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Bills' Manuel has nightmarish game



I think this is the best way to explain just how bad EJ Manuel and the Bills offense were during Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  While watching Manuel and company cough and wheeze their way through the game, I felt like I did when Trent Edwards was playing quarterback.

 That was a life sucking performance by the Bills number one pick and his cohorts and it completely kills the "I'm feeling better about this team despite the record" argument.


I think there was a lot riding on this game and I don't mean the idea of the Bills making a run to get back into the playoff discussion.  This was a game that should have validated that optimistic feeling that I had and many of you had as well.

 If the Bills are indeed on the way up, they needed to beat a team that was going in reverse at about 100 miles an hour this season.  Not only did that not happen but the Bills were smoked by a Steelers team that was creating talk of a major house cleaning coming in the off season.


That game was awful in so many different ways.  I'll start with Manuel, whose return to the lineup this week should have been a good thing after the Bills went 1-3 with Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel at the helm.  But the Florida State product had the worst game of his young Bills career, which is saying something when you think how bad he was against the Jets back in week three.

The final stats say Manuel was 22-39 for 155 yards, one touchdown and one interception but those numbers are deceiving because they were aided by a garbage time 15 play, 80 yard touchdown drive.  Manuel was 11-14 for 76 yards and a TD pass as the Steelers sat back, content to let him complete short passes rather than give up a big play and quick score.  Prior to that drive, Manuel was 11-25 for 79 yards and the pick.

The Bills got a field goal on their very first possession but it didn't take much since they started on the Steelers 29 yard line after a Jairus Byrd interception and 57 yard return.  Over the next 10 drives, the Bills punted nine times and had the interception.

The best "drive" the Bills had covered 34 yards.  At one point, Buffalo's 49 offensive plays produced a mere 149 yards against a Pittsburgh defense that has been picked on most of the season and had given up five pass plays of 51 yards or longer this season.  The Bills couldn't stay on the field, going a woeful 2012 on third downs. Excluding the garbage time TD drive, the Bills managed only two plays that were longer than nine yards.
 

Manuel was off target from the get go.  On the first Bills possession, with a third and goal at the Pittsburgh two yard line, Manuel attempted to throw a fade pass to Stevie Johnson  but the ball sailed beyond the white out of bounds paint and landed at the feet of a photographer.

On the second drive, Stevie Johnson bailed out his QB, punching an inaccurate pass away from Steelers linebacker Lamarr Woodley. 

On the third drive, a third and five pass  to Johnson would have been good for a first down at the Pittsburgh 45 yard line had the throw not been behind the Bills top receiver.  It was that kind of day for Manuel.

Even though the 2013 season is all about evaluating Manuel's performance and determining whether or not the Bills finally have their long term answer at the position, I was still surprised Head Coach Doug Marrone didn't pull Manuel and give Thad Lewis a shot. During his show on WGR on Friday, Marrone was asked if he would hesitate to take Manuel out in the event he was struggling and Marrone said he would do whatever it takes to win.  He did not on this day because Manuel clearly didn't have it.  Its quite possible Lewis wouldn't have fared any better but you never know and the team was in need of a spark on offense.

I knew the Steelers had the decided edge at quarterback in this game but I thought the Bills would win because they had the better team but that never panned out as the Bills fell to 1-4 on the road.

 The running game couldn't get going against the NFL's 31st ranked run defense.  Pittsburgh was giving up an average of 131 yards rushing a game and had been scorched for 12 rushing touchdowns in eight games but they limited the Bills to 95 yards on the ground and no TD's.


The offense, or lack of offense, killed the Bills in this game but the defense had its faults too.  An ineffective Pittsburgh running game came to life against the Bills.  The Steelers averaged only 73 yards a game coming into this contest and they were able to top that  early in the second quarter.  The Steelers ended up with 136 yards rushing, 66 above their season average.  

The Bills couldn't get Pittsburgh off the field either.  The Steelers converted 8 of 17 on third down although many of those were third and five yards or less.

The defense reverted to early season form when it came to giving up big plays.  Ben Roethlisberger and company had five pass plays of 20 yards or more and a 25 yard run play.

Don't forget the special teams.  Marcell Dareus jumped offside on a Steelers field goal attempt giving Pittsburgh a first down and Roethlisberger converted the second chance into a touchdown.

The punt coverage, which had been much better since the Cleveland game, gave up a 51 yard return to Antonio Brown.

It was not a good day in terms of coaching decisions either.  There was some questionable play calling by Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett who leaned on an ice cold Manuel too much in the second half, and before the game got out of hand.

Marrone also decided to have his team punt six times when the Bills were no worse than at their own 44 yard line.  One was a 4th and 10, another was a 4th and 9 but there were punts on 4th and 6 at the Steelers 40 in the first quarter with the Bills up 3-0.  Later in the quarter, the Bills punted on 4th and 4 at the 50.  With :49 left in the second quarter, Brian Moorman was called on again with the Bills facing 4th and 4 at their own 44 but the worst moment came one minute into the fourth quarter.  It was 4th and 5 at the Pittsburgh 36 yard line and the Bills were down 17-3 yet Marrone played the field position game.  The punt left Pittsburgh at their own 11 and they promptly moved the ball out to near midfield before the drive stalled.  I know the offense is dying out there  but you have to take a shot down 14 with 14 minutes to go.  You're at the Pittsburgh 36 for goodness sakes! Just go for it.  What have you got to lose at that point?

A game like this just makes you think of nothing but negative thoughts.  Before the game I was thinking the Bills could be 5-6 going into the bye week and coming out of the bye with very winnable games against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and   Jacksonville.  Now I fully anticipate another loss to the Jets, a 3-8 record and I'm worried I have to start reading up on the quarterbacks in the 2014 draft.  That's how much this game took out of me.

In light of the recent off field issues, has your enthusiasm for the NFL been affected?
  Yes. I'm not enjoying the games as much
  No. Why should it? Its a very small percentage of players
 
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