Tonawanda News

September 26, 2013

Bills' Manuel gets crash course in facing blitz

By JOHN WAWROW
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — ORCHARD PARK — Whether it's handling opposing pass rushers on the field, and questions off it, Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel is suddenly having a hard time escaping the blitz.

Since spending much of last weekend flat on his back, Manuel was back on his feet Wednesday, feeling better prepared in facing pressure after spending the past two days working on it in practice.

The extra work became necessary in light of Manuel's struggles in a 27-20 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday. When he wasn't being sacked eight times, Manuel was sailing desperation passes out of bounds.

"Yeah, I'm a lot more prepared," Manuel said. "I learned a lot from that game and the mistakes I made."

The Bills' defense went after him in practice Wednesday. And Manuel spent part of his day off Tuesday working on his own in making quick, precise throws downfield.

The only thing missing was a 250-pound linebacker in his face.

"No, we didn't have that," Manuel said with a laugh. "We couldn't simulate that one. But it was the best we could."

Manuel is going to have to do much better with the Bills (1-2) preparing to face another attacking style defense on Sunday, when they host the Baltimore Ravens (2-1).

Against the Jets, Manuel at times looked rattled in completing 19 of 42 attempts for 243 yards and a touchdown. And he was particularly bad in third- or fourth-down situations.

Though he hit tight end Scott Chandler for a 33-yard touchdown pass on third-and-6, Manuel was otherwise dreadful. On third or fourth down, he went 3 of 14 for 55 yards passing and was sacked twice.

"I felt like I should've been more composed," Manuel said. "When they're bringing the house at you, it's a tough thing to deal with. But nonetheless, you have to deal with it. It's just a part of maturing in the position."

Until that happens, he understands opposing defenses are going to take the same approach against him.

"I'm sure a lot more teams are going to try to amp it up a little bit, too," he said. "So I think the biggest thing is showing that you can handle it, and that's when they'll stop doing the blitzes."

Manuel's struggles came a week after he showed signs of his potential by rallying the Bills to a last-second 24-23 win over Carolina.

In taking a big step back against the Jets, Manuel showed the tell-tale signs of inconsistency encountered by most NFL rookies. And that's raised concerns among Bills players as to how long it might take Manuel to find his footing against the blitz.

"It's hard to say," center Eric Wood said. "I think he'll rebound, though. Just working with him for the past few months, I think every time a challenge is presented, he's kind of stepped up."

Running back C.J. Spiller offered a mixed response Wednesday.

He credited Manuel for having poise, but also added: "We just have to do a better job of just calming him down."

Not all of the blame should land on Manuel, because the Bills are experiencing difficulty maintaining drives whether they're running or passing.

Buffalo has converted just 14 of 45 third down chances. And more often than not, that's been the result of having difficulty gaining yards on first and second down.

Manuel's inconsistencies have come as no surprise to Jim Kelly, the Bills Hall of Fame quarterback.

"He's getting there. He's had some tough days, but what rookie hasn't?" Kelly said.

"We all hope he'll turn out to be the quarterback we've been praying for," Kelly added. "Great kid. Great work ethic. Time will only tell. But I'm one guy who is pulling for EJ Manuel."