EJ Manuel’s return to the Buffalo Bills lineup did not go the way that many had hoped it would. Jeremy White’s All-22 gives a good look at all the ways the Steelers tried to fool the Bills rookie, and what must improve going forward.
Very little went right for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in Pittsburgh. EJ Manuel finished out with a very forgettable stat line of 22 of 39, for 155 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He becomes the latest QB to fall victim to Dick Lebeau. The Steelers DC is in the Hall of Fame (Class of 2010) and Sunday he certainly looked the part.
Let’s start here: EJ Manuel can be much better.
The Bills QB struggled with his location throughout the game, and coaches have chalked some of those problems up to his rushed footwork. On 3rd and 5 in the opening quarter the Bills face a 3rd and 5.
Left Tackle Cordy Glenn gets beat to the inside forcing Manuel to slide as he makes his delivery to Stevie Johnson. Johnson is open for a first down, but the throw is off the mark. Manuel can make a better throw. Glenn can get more of his man and give him more time as well. Throughout this piece today you'll see that when the Bills players say things like, "We can do more to help out EJ"...they're right. Here's one play. The QB can be better, and he can also use a bit more help.
Later in the first quarter the Bills again try to get the ball to Stevie Johnson. Johnson runs a curl that's intended to go just past the LB Lamar Woodley here. Woodley gets his hands on Johnson to give a little chip along the way. (This is something the Steelers did a lot of as we'll see later). Johnson clears, but the throw is not where it needs to be for a completion. It's too far to the outside. Woodley has a better chance for this ball that Johnson.
You notice that Woodley took a piece of Johnson as he went by? This is something the Steelers did often. Whether it's Stevie Johnson or TJ Graham, it seemed to be a point of emphasis in the Pittsburgh zone (when they'd drop into it). There were also a handful of these chips, tugs, and holds that happened well down the field that went uncalled.
Manuel still has a lot to prove at the NFL level. A lot...listen to me...he has a TON. If you polled Bills fans you'd probably hear most of them tell you they want to see a deep ball, right? Let's take a look at two calls where the Bills tried to dial up something deep, only to be turned away.
Troy Polamalu was all over the field in this game. As the Bills tried to throw deep to TJ Graham, Polamalu stood watch as the deep safety over the right side. As Manuel barks out the count, he creeps slightly closer to the line, but as soon as the ball is headed to Manuel, the Steelers Safety is rushing back to cover over the top and give the Steelers more a traditional 2 safety look.
This would be what the Bills are talking about when they say the Steelers took away the deep ball.
However...you can't take it away all the time. Actually I suppose you could, but defensively teams are always trying to mix up their looks. The Steelers gave the Bills a Cover 1 look with man coverage on the receivers, and Manuel likely got the look he wanted here.
The throw is a bit too long for Stevie Johnson, but it's worth a second look. Johnson is a master at the quick release and the shake of the DB in this spot. This isn't his best work at the line. It's impossible for me to know if the throw is off the mark, or if Stevie didn't get out quickly and cleanly enough. Sometimes the margin for error...is just that small. Also...a hand-check/hold might have helped here as well. (Remember what I said about being physical with the WRs?)
The Bills offensive line had a big test this week. While the blitzing schemes of Dick Lebeau can give a QB headaches, they are intended to attack a team's protection schemes and break them down. This...is where the All-22 really shines.
The Bills line up in a formation that we see quite a bit. Two WRs to the right, with Scott Chandler on that side as well. TJ Graham is split out to the left. At the snap the alignment features two down lineman, and only one of them comes on the rush.
At the snap...things change quite a bit.
The Steelers overload the left side of the Bills line. The key here is to watch the interior of the Bills offensive line. Urbik, Wood, and Legursky have no one to block. The DL that stood over Wood has backed off and the rush comes almost entirely from the edge.
The protection holds for a moment and forces a slightly rushed throw from Manuel over the middle to Stevie Johnson. Another half second, and Johnson may clear here. He doesn't. A throw a split second earlier and Johnson might be freed up as Polamalu is whipping his head around. Either way, it's a 3rd down blitz that gets the job done. Incompletion = punt.
There is, however, another option for Manuel here. Run it.
There's a lot of open space to the right because the DB on that side is in man coverage and has turned his back.
Not All Bad
While we're able to see the things that Manuel has missed on in this game, there's reason to think he can get better. On the previous play you could see a lot of room to run when facing man coverage. He uses it for a good gain here.
When handling the Steelers blitz, the line held up often. Here we see another overload on the left side of the Bills line. The Steelers send four men while the Bills have only three blockers.
It's the Safety Will Allen that breaks in untouched.
The throw is on the move, and on the money. Manuel shows good presence here in feeling that safety blitz, while extending the play and picking up a first down.
Manuel checked down an awful lot, and was a bit quick to do so during the game. The Steelers played Manuel with 4 and 5 man rushes most of the time, opting to drop numbers back into coverage. There are throws to be made against these coverages. They're tough throws, but they're NFL throws. An NFL QB is faced with a set of challenges as his career goes along. Defensive coordinators will show you just about everything. As soon as you show that you can beat it, they'll show you something else. Manuel will have to show an ability to beat all types of coverages, and that's once he learns to recognize them all as well.
There will be times that no receiver is able to find space.
The middle of the field here is wide open, but Graham sits down on a curl route (possibly reading zone) from the DB. At the top of the screen you'll see the other WR do the same thing here. Nothing's happening so EJ scrambles and tries to find Graham who comes back to him. It goes as incomplete. Is this one on EJ?
Then there are times that you do have appropriate plays dialed up, and the QB has to throw to an open spot, more than he's throwing to an open man.
Just before the end of the half Manuel threw three straight passes to Fred Jackson. Watch Stevie Johnson on both of these plays.
Johnson lines up in the slot on both plays, and is available on both. He first runs the corner route, and then the curl (the order of these plays is actually flipped in the game). In both cases the throw went to the running back. The Bills would punt.
Here are few looks at good stuff. First up....watch the Steelers back from a Cover 1 Robber look....(Polamalu up near the line of scrimmage...just 5 yards off the ball)
Into a 2 deep zone with Polamalu dropping into the middle shadowing Chris Hogan as he runs down the seam.
It's on a 3rd and 22 anyway so...Manuel may have been expecting man coverage and intense pressure. Instead the Steelers backed into the zone they played most of the day, and sacked Manuel with a 4 man rush as the right side got smoked. Sometimes...you need a towel to throw.
Jairus Byrd's Pick
Bills are rolling with man coverage and Byrd is the safety. McKelvin loses the inside on his man, which prompts the throw from Roethlisberger. A better throw here likely goes into the endzone, possibly for a touchdown. Byrd closes laterally along the 15 yard line and makes a nice play.
Marcel Dareus is crazy fast around the edge
Self-explanatory. Wow. Just wow.
Cheers all. Email me at email@example.com or tweet me @JeremyWGR
Bring on the Jets.