With the return of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel we can get back to trying to figure out if the Bills were wise to invest the 16th pick in him last April. After sitting out the past 4 games we were naturally wondering just how much rust would be evident.
Now it might have been tough to keep track of the rust on Manuel with the wind blowing it all over the field in Pittsburgh. It was really windy and that can make grading Manuel's day difficult. But with the loss to the Steelers dropping the Bills 3-7, grading Manuel is pretty much all we've got left.
So how was he? How's pretty bad grab you? The first sign of trouble came when he floated a fade to Stevie Johnson in the end zone in the 1st quarter. A pass that never had a chance because Manuel threw it, you guessed it, out of bounds. Sure there were a couple of decent throws to Johnson along the way, but mostly Manuel struggled with his accuracy and failed to push the ball downfield at all prior to falling behind by 2 touchdowns. When he finally took a shot, Manuel overthrew Johnson down the sideline.
At least that throw stayed in bounds.
His next attempt at pushing the ball down the field was into double coverage and an easy interception for Ryan Clark.
Manuel returns at a weird time and maybe with a slightly different level of expectation. The Bills only won 1 of the 4 games Manuel missed and it is not as though they got any kind of great quarterbacking in his absence. What they did get was a handful of big throws by either Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel. Watching the offense operate like that with un-drafted street free agents raises the bar for Manuel, a 1st round a pick.
Fair or not, I think we're going to expect Manuel to look better than those guys, maybe by a lot. I say fair or not because this line of thinking fails to take into account that Manuel was playing his fifth full game in the NFL against the Steelers. That's simply not very much game action. But again, the comparison is being made to guys who were playing in their first or second NFL games as well.
Flat out, Manuel and the offense were horrendous against the Steelers. Not only did Manuel fail to be better than Lewis and Tuel, he went one better. He was worse.
A pair of injuries have interrupted Manuel's rookie season and I predict that will make it hard for the Bills to feel like they can make an accurate call on whether or not Manuel is the guy to end a soon to be 14 year playoff drought.
The fans are liable to be itchy. Manuel had better show some real signs of progress over the final 6 games. More than just a good throw here or there or a good drive now and then. Fans are going to want to see a bona fide good if not great game from Manuel at some point here.
Fans are going to want to have some reason to believe that Manuel is the guy moving forward. So far, all we've got is a healthy serving of uncertainty. With what is thought to be a very nice looking draft class of quarterbacks coming up in the spring, Bills fans will be in no mood for uncertainty.