In the Bills win over Jacksonville, EJ Manuel was able to return to some of his bread-and-butter throws. He delivered when given time to make throws, but there's a step to be taken. Jeremy White shows you in this week's All-22 Review.
EJ Manuel has had a good rookie season with the Buffalo Bills if you judge by franchise history. Manuel's 11 TDs on the season set a new rookie record for touchdown passes in a season. Considering he still has two games to play, and missed another five games due to injury, it's a good mark for him. (It also indicates that the Bills haven't ever really had a great rookie throwing the ball).
His game in Jacksonville wasn't eye-popping statistically, but upon further review, I came away impressed. However...before I show you all the things that Manuel did well in the game, I'm going to give a look at what I want next.
I wrote last week that I'm looking for Manuel to make more throws while on the run. When there are breakdowns in pass protection, or just the rush flushing him out of the pocket he has the opportunity to do a few things. We've seen him run for good gains, as we did in Jacksonville. We've seen him put himself in harm's way and miss five games because of the hit in Cleveland.
Earlier in the season, at home against Carolina, Manuel threw a pass to Robert Woods along the sideline. He'd been flushed from the pocket and Woods came back to the ball for a nice pickup. I thought that would be an indication of what was to come from the Bills rookie QB. However, that down field accuracy while on the run hasn't shown up too many times since.
Maybe I'm asking a lot...but hey, it's my column. At the top of my wish list: EJ's eyes up, while rolling/running. Let's take a look.
Last week in Tampa Manuel was on the run an awful lot. On one play, when flushed to the right wide, Robert Woods found some space in the middle of the field, and took off. The safety that Woods was running toward, jumped up to help with Manuel, who was on the run but still behind the line.
This play went as a seven yard gain, but it got me thinking about all of this. He's trying to play it safe, which is a good thing sometimes. Take the seven yards, right? Yes. Sometimes I want you to take the seven yards. Then I think back to both Mike Glennon and Drew Brees who beat the Bills with prayers to the endzone when flushed from the pocket. The Bills could use a few more shots like this, and I'm pretty sure that one reason they drafted EJ Manuel was specifically for that reason.
I linked this article last week. Here it is again.
In there is this nugget: "Marrone pointed to Manuel’s ability to keep his eyes downfield when flushed out of the pocket. In the past three seasons, Manuel actually was more accurate when outside the pocket than inside it."
Ok. Remember that. I'm not saying he can't do that at all. He has a lot on his plate, and this is what I want to see next.
Late in the 4th quarter of the Jacksonville game, he had another opportunity to hit big while on the run. The Bills call a play action pass, and the safety (by himself) bites. HARD.
Manuel rolls to his right with the play fake, and Stevie Johnson is looking at six points. Johnson throws his arm up, Manuel appears to flinch as though he sees it, but realizes that it's too late and takes the yards via the scramble.
The Bills would later score the go-ahead TD so this obviously isn't a massive crime to miss a throw. It's a tough throw on the run, but Johnson is wide open, and if EJ Manuel is going to become one of the best QBs in the league, or Buffalo's franchise guy, I think it includes this type of throw.
Later in the game came a play that I'll likely spend the most time with because of just how much happens. It's another opportunity for Manuel to get his eyes up and throw downfield, but there's more to it.
The Jaguars open up with two safeties, while the Bills are running four verticals out of a three receiver set. Scott Chandler is on the left side of the formation with Marquise Goodwin up top.
One safety buzzes down, and comes on a blitz, leaving Jacksonville in Cover 1, and man coverage on the receivers. The Bills have thrown deep to Marquise Goodwin against all types of coverages, but this one is a good look, and Manuel appears ready to take the shot.
Manuel has a clear look at the safety (and so do you....seriously networks, let get this angle). He trusts his protection and appears to be looking to go to Goodwin. This next part happens fast and can be tough to pinpoint on Vine, but try to. Manuel takes the snap and looks down the middle of the field before hopping to turn right and throw to Goodwin who is in single coverage. Just one problem...the blitz gets home.
The Jags safety runs by Kraig Urbik at right guard (a breakdown somewhere) and Manuel gets clipped before he can throw. Now it's time to improvise. As Manuel flushes out to the right, he has a lot of green to work with.
As Manuel scrambles Fred Jackson begins to run with him, while Robert Woods on the near sideline turns to come back to the ball.
Either throw is available. He's running out of room, and he's being chased by giant defensive linemen on the play as well. Manuel makes a good play to hold the ball, escape, and pick up positive yardage. Eyes up...it's on my wish list.
It's my belief that Marquise Goodwin was going to get a shot on that last play. He was also able to pick up pass interference on one deep throw, and draw a personal foul penalty on another. On the play that drew a personal foul, we can debate whether or not Goodwin should have made the catch...but what Manuel did was very encouraging.
It's a tight window that EJ has to squeeze this ball into, and I believe he does it well enough to give Goodwin a chance. Goodwin has the best chance on this ball, but ultimately it falls incomplete and the Bills only get the 15 yards with the penalty. But...let's go back to the QB. It's a tight window, that Manuel creates with his movement.
At the snap he looks left...then middle...and throws right. Watch the safety take one step left. You might say he could give Goodwin a little more room to get away from the safety, and you might be right. Watching this play though was another indication that Manuel (when given time) was actually pretty sharp in Jacksonville.
On Goodwin though...can he be the unsung hero of the game? Zero catches on the day, but a player that the Jaguars were obviously concerned with. Watch how the Bills use Goodwin to open things up for Chris Gragg.
Gragg runs a post over the middle, while Goodwin is on a go route. TJ Graham, lined up just off the line, chips the D-line and then leaks out to the right. All of this adds up to lots of protection for Manuel who has lots of time. The safety in the black circle, is the man to watch.
I've moved the black circle to Goodwin here, who threatens to pop the top off the defense. Gragg comes across the middle, clears the LBs, and finds a spot in front of that safety.
If we're nitpicking the throw might be a half-half-smidge late...but whatever, right? It's a good throw over the middle to Gragg, who looks like a good weapon.
Marquise Goodwin - 0 catches - Big impact.
EJ and Woods
Robert Woods season high 82 yards showcased a little bit of everything that this offense can do. Woods finished out with five catches, one for a TD (the only throw I won't show you).
Chemistry = Timing. Exhibits A and B. Same play run twice...each for a big gain.
Worth another look on play B, is the play fake. This is a great look at EJ's fake, and the Jags safety that follows CJ Spiller well after EJ has pulled the ball away.
As you look at the other throws to Woods, tell me what you see. Watch the first two, and then these next two.
Last week Coach Marrone talked with Howard and I about "pocket depth" and that Manuel should always have a place to step in to. He has a place on many of these throws. Simply put...when the Bills protected him, he was able to effectively move the offense down the field with many different throws. The old saying is that if you give ANY QB time to throw, he'll find a guy. These are just good, solid throws from Manuel that are brought about by good protection.
And sometimes...it's about the throws that you DON'T make...
Monday morning I had said that EJ was "just OK". Maybe that's right? I can't go so far as to say that it made me feel better about the future...but I certainly feel better about Sunday.
Maybe he just needs time.
Aaron Williams play at safety has been a big surprise this season, and he opened up Sunday in style with an interception of Chad Henne. The Bills line up with man coverage on a play that the Jags might want to forget all about. Watch the design here, and remember it.
The TE tries to slip to the sideline behind the outside WR covered by Gilmore. Williams holds his ground, reads the QB, and makes a great play.
I told you to remember the design of that play....well...it bit the Jags again later in the game. Sometimes, it's all about what you can get away with.
Stephon Gilmore ultimately snags the interception, but Nickell Robey deserves an assist. Robey lines up on the slot receiver in man coverage, while Gilmore has the outside WR. This might just come down to execution for the Jags because Gilmore's man...doesn't exactly sell his route.
The Bills drop into man coverage, and Henne has eyes on that slot receiver in the back corner. Gilmore, however, is able to peek at the QB because of Todman's route to the goal line.
While Gilmore peeks...Robey disrupts the timing of WR Mike Brown's route. He also, holds? Maybe? Hey. Scoreboard, right? Mike Brown seems angry.
Feedback always appreciated!