Monday Reactions: EJ Manuel surprises, but is it enough?

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EJ Manuel took the reigns of the Buffalo Bills offense on Sunday afternoon and led the charge to the tune of a 34-21 loss to the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The stat line on the surface is pretty good. 28-for-42, 263 yards, a touchdown and an interception. But when looking at his performance compared to that of Tyrod Taylor’s first five, a couple of things stand out.

The first thing is the accuracy problems that Manuel seems to have with open receivers. Sunday he was throwing good balls on the run (i.e. touchdown to Watkins) and did not miss too many receivers, but when he did, it was ugly.

The interception intended for Hogan was a little underthrown, and that turned into seven points. The problems did not lie in the offense, but in the special teams.

After poor coverage, the Bengals took their first kickoff to their own 49 yard line. They then took over on the Buffalo 49 after a Ron Brooks penalty was enforced. After the interception, the Bengals started at the Bills’ 45.

Bottom line: You cannot give a 5-0 football team field position as good as this and expect them to shut the Bengals down. I don’t care how “elite” your defense is.

Granted, Cincinnati is good, but the Bills did not show up for this game. Careless special teams penalties, an offense that only shows spurts of being good and a defense that gets both no help and cannot come up in big situations. Gee, where have we heard this before (see, Tennessee).

What frustrated me most was the playcalling by offensive coordinator Greg Roman. On the opening drive, the Bills dominated the ground, rushing the ball six times with LeSean McCoy en route to a march down the field.

McCoy finished the day with 17 carries, showing that the Bills only ran the ball with him 11 times the rest of the game. I get it, you cannot run the ball from behind. But Buffalo was down only three at halftime. They were not out of the game until later, when the Bengals decided to turn it up a notch and outscored Buffalo 14-0 in the third and put the game away.

So, back to Manuel. The biggest difference between him and Taylor is the instinct of what to do when pressure attacks or when a play breaks down. Manuel on multiple occasions looked almost lost when he got under pressure, bringing sacks or intentional grounding.

Taylor would rely on his legs to make plays, as he showed in the game against the Titans.

The Bills lost this game, but it was not all on Manuel. Buffalo needs to stick more with what works (rushing attack after the first drive) and they need to stop committing the dumb penalties on special teams. Do these things, and Buffalo can be back in a playoff position.