What is the number now?
Ten starting QBs since Jim Kelly retired? It is so funny how spoiled Bills fans from the '90s were. We had year after year of success and I think most fans assumed we'd just dial 1-800-GIVE-US-A-QB and presto, the next Jim Kelly would walk through those doors. In hindsight, I know that sounds like ultra hyperbole, but I remember…
People were begging for Todd Collins to take the reigns as Kelly's better days were long gone. You don't have to cue up the Goo Goo Dolls to know that we haven't come close to better days since Kelly was knocked out of his last game. The list of starters after Jim reads like an endless list of bad “Saw” movies.
But what if..what if EJ Manuel is special? What if he actually ends the trilogy of horror movies we've seen at QB? What if he brings us back to respectability or relevance?
You see, what you just read is exactly how every single Bills post about QBs has read in the last 10 years or at least in the 4 years I've been blogging. It's the same narrative: The good old days, followed by the torture we have gone through, wrapped up with a Luke Skywalker metaphor. A new hope on the horizon!
Save me the "This feels different!" crap. I think Sully wrote that this may be the most anticipated camp since 1986. Um, dude.. Do you remember the hype that surrounded Bledsoe coming here? How about Terrell Owens? What about last year with Mario Williams? Trust me, we've seen this kind of hype in July and August before. That is the reason I hate the hoopla around training camp. It gets built up every year and boom…September hits and we die. It is the same thing every year. Only the names and faces change.
As for the regular season, I saw folks – myself included – anoint JP Losman “The Next Guy” after he threw a TD pass against Houston. Same goes for when Rob Johnson leaped into the end zone for a TD against KC. How about Trent Edwards? Drew Bledsoe? Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing 40tds in 21 games? So many times we’ve hitched our hopes and dreams to a new QB. They tease us, and we fall for it hook, line, and sinker because we are so desperate for someone to just be good. BE GOOD!!! DAMN!! JUST STOP SUCKING SO KIDS CAN WEAR QB JERSEYS FOR MORE THAN 3 YEARS!
I'd like to tell you that I feel differently about EJ Manuel, but holy crap, we are only what, 10 days into practices? We won't have a clear-cut vision of what type of QB EJ Manuel is until next year…at least.
I’m not trying to throw cold water on EJ for this year. The excitement is real for most fans and hey, if it makes you feel better, live it up. It is always fun to have a new QB in town, especially one drafted in the 1st round. However, and maybe this is me trying not to set myself up for disappointment, I’m not going to let the last couple of draft classes fool me when it comes to QBs in their rookie years. For the first 90 years of the NFL, rookie QBs suffered through a ton of growing pains. Now all of a sudden, I'm supposed to think EJ will be like RGIII or Andrew Luck or that all rookie QBs can be as great as them right away? Not today. Also, let's not forget that there's still a QB competition to win. More on that later.
Now, if I sound like I'm being negative, my apologies. I'm just trying to say that the microscope that we are about to put on EJ shouldn't lead us to definitive good or bad POVs. If he pulls a 300-yard game out, let’s not try and anoint him. If he throws a 4 pick game, let’s not try and kill him. Being a young QB in the NFL is all about growing pains, especially during the first 2-3 years.
Would it be great if he pulls a Russell Wilson type season out of his ass? Of course. Why not us, right? The thought of EJ being that type of player is bonerriffic. You don't have to be a football historian to know that if you have a great QB, you are going places. There are a number of examples in the last 15 years to support this theory.
This year is going to be about EJ Manuel. To me, unless Manuel makes a complete fool of himself during the preseason, he's winning this starting job. Since 2007, 18 QBs have been picked in the 1st round and 13 of them went on to start the season opener. Seventeen of those 18 started at least one game during their rookie seasons.
I would totally take a 4-12 season with Manuel throwing for 25 TDs and 15 INTs, pretty much what happened with the Panthers during Cam Newton's rookie year. They finished 6-10, but his play was outstanding. Sign me up for this. Sign me up for a 20 TD year. Sign me up for a shitty start to his career, only to then finish with 9TDs in his final three starts. PROGRESS, kids. That’s what our goal should be this season.
The fact is the Bills aren't going to be good this season. It is no different than 2010, 2006 and 2001, when all you wanted was for the Bills to make progress in certain areas and the young guys to start showing something. Wins and loses didn't mean a damn thing then and they don’t now. It was all about what the folks would do their 2nd or 3rd seasons, and that’s normally when the team failed miserably and guys were clipped. Those were your classic rebuilding years and I think with a new regime in place, 2013 is no different.
I hate to put pressure on rookies, but if EJ plays well this year, I’ll be happy going forward when it comes to this regime.
So who is going to win the QB competition?
I don't mean to sound flippant, but I laughed my ass off last week when some folks were acting like it was a formality that EJ Manuel would start opening day based on like 7 days worth of practices. This is exhibit 1Q of how the sports world is all about making rash decisions based on little information. Shit, I think fans and media desperately want to believe that Manuel is ready to start just so they don't have to be bored to death by Kolb playing and having to talk about what he brings to the table. Fuck that extra research, am I right?
Just take the last few days, when the word came down that Manuel didn't look good on Sunday, that he didn't guide the Bills to a 1st down during his first 7 drives of that intersquad scrimmage, a sense of bafflement came over some folks. Why? This is what happens in training camp.
None of that is a real slight against Manuel. All of these practices are just very small parts in the grand scheme of who will win the job. No one should be declaring a leader until after the 1st preseason game at least. Plus, trying to analyze practices is just a joke because it's practice. We're talking about practice. Yes, channel Allen Iverson's practice rant, please.
First off, practice is bullshit for the most part. There's an archive full of stories about how Rob Johnson looked like the 2nd coming of Jim Kelly in shorts. Secondly, the biggest factor in who is going to win the starting job is preseason games, not practice. Live action is completely different than practice. Them are the facts, folks. To me, it is still up in the air until that first preseason game and should stay open until after the 3rd one at least, unless someone comes along and clearly wins in the first couple.
At first I was of the mindset that the Bills didn't have to rush EJ, and I still feel that way, but we all know that from a pure entertainment standpoint, Kevin Kolb starting is about as boring as church. If EJ's at the same level as Kolb, then there's no point in delaying his start. If the coaches think EJ is ready, then just start him. However, don't feel forced by the media, fans, or marketing gurus. And that's the thing… Sometimes you just have to go back to your initial feelings or the first few things you heard about a player, and ignore the silly overhyped training camp headlines.
I’m reminded of what an FSU blogger told me during our Q&A about how EJ Manuel might be more of a project than a guy who starts from day 1. That resonates with me, especially since most bloggers are homers when it comes to their own guys, especially in the college ranks. Hey…it’s true.
In the end, I have zero idea who will win this job and think it is foolish to make predictions based on a week of practice. Would I rather EJ start? Yes. I have no interest in seeing Kolb. However, spare me with the he has to start from day 1 because he won't learn anything while being on the bench. That's a very defensible theory (See: Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and a bunch of others).
Where are EJ and Doug Marrone coming from?
It is pretty hard for me to really assess how EJ will do this year and beyond. First of all, I didn't watch any of his games at FSU. Secondly, none of us know shit. If we did, we'd all be NFL scouts. I blame ESPN and all the wannabe draft prognosticators for this.,,but that’s a post for another day.
The Bills have pretty much said they are running a version of the West Coast Offense that has vertical routes and a lot of no-huddle to it. We all know by now that Nate Hackett has like Ted Marchibroda's playbook from the no-huddle days or something along those lines.
As for EJ, we know he's coming from the read option at FSU which is vastly different from what they ran at Syracuse. Here's how nickelcitybills describes the offense which the Hawks/49ers ran at times last year:
"Basically the RB is going to run in an opposite direction as the QB (left/right or up the middle). The QB reads the action side DE or OLB and decides to hand off to RB based on that read. Let's say the play call is for the RB up the middle and QB to the right end. If the DE makes a move outside the RT, the read is to hand off inside to the RB. If the DE flashes to the inside, the QB keeps it. It's just a way for the offense to be a step ahead of the defense and take advantage of blockers."
It feels a bit gimmicky to me, but it is still in the fresh phase when it comes to NFL teams. It could go way of the wildcat fade or maybe become the 21st century version of the spread. I think it would behoove the Bills to run some plays like these. I think with guys like Spiller/Jackson in the backfield as decoys, teams will have no choice but to respect the Bills ability to run it, especially if the Bills are going to run a lot of 3-wide sets.
EJ's accuracy is pretty decent*
As I mentioned earlier, the Bills are going to be running a version of a West Coast Offense with a vertical passing game element to it. Obviously, the days of Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense of slants and quick outs has been vastly remixed by 100s of different coaches, and Hacket’s version is different as well. However, any sort of offense connected to the West Coast Offense needs accurate passers.
When you look at EJ's completion percentage in college, you come away impressed. He connected on 67% of his passes for his career. Great! However, there's an asterisk when it comes to where on the field these completions came.
According to this article by Second Round stats, more than half of EJ's pass attempts last year were from 1-5 yards out or screen passes. Last I checked, making those throws isn't too hard in comparison to down the field throws. In fact, only 25% of his pass attempts traveled beyond 10 yards through the air.
It gets a bit dicier when you look at his completion percentage for throws that traveled more than 20 yards in the air, as the completion percentage dips to 45%. What makes it more staggering is that EJ went from completing 75% of his passes on throws between 1-20 yards to completing only 45% beyond 20 yards. Keep in mind, the same article says that 26% of Syracuse's passes came between 10-20 yards while EJ's pass attempts were at 13%.
One other thing to keep an eye on was that EJ Manuel wasn't exactly a great red zone QB, which is surprising when you consider that he has the ability to keep defenses on their toes because he can run or throw the football. In the red zone, EJ was only 38 of 69, although he did have 15 TDs and just 1 INT. However, even with the superb TD/INT ratio, it was by far his lowest completion percentage anywhere on the field. I mention this, because the red zone is by far the hardest part of the field to work in because defenses start tightening up and offenses don't have enough room to spread the field. This is something that we should keep an eye on.
What do we like about EJ?
I mean, what else is there at this point in the game? He's our get rich quick scheme. I'm just not the type of fan who is going to have a boner because he sounds great in interviews or he’s saving kittens or he looks good in practice. Like i said, there’s a ton of stories about how great Rob Johnson looked in shorts. There's been way too many QBs over the years here who sounded sharp in interviews. Hell, one of them was from Harvard. Show it to me on the field. But what I can get down with is the idea of the future being now and hopefully being right.
From what everyone has said, EJ has the skills to be a franchise QB. He’s got a cannon for an arm, he can read defenses, he's a leader, and he can move. I mean, he seems like the prototypical starting QB in the current NFL. Since Kelly retired, the Bills have always seemed to score on maybe 2 out of 4 traits, but then the shortcomings destroy any sort of positives.
Blueprint wise, Manuel has a lot going for him…but we just won’t know if it will work out for sure until 2015.
As for some nice stats I found about Manuel’s time at FSU:
- He was only sacked once every 12 pass attempts.
- He had a QB Rating of 141 against ranked teams.
- In his last 27 starts, Manuel had less than a 100 QB rating in just 3 games.
- In 18 of his last 27 starts, FSU scored 30 points or more.
Oh…We still have to talk about Kevin Kolb.
It is sad that over 13 years of losing, I can easily recall Bills moments, most of them bad. When the Bills signed Kevin Kolb, I got a few texts from friends who are Eagles fans and they weren't exactly ringing endorsements. While Kolb is great with a quote and seems like a leader in interviews, he's a fucken tire fire of a player. Based on what the experts say, he doesn't have much pocket presence, he gets hurt a lot, and he doesn't throw down the field. All of these criticisms are true.
Pocket presence: The Kevin Kolb apologist will say that the Arizona line was terrible last year and that's why he was sacked 27 times in just 183 pass attempts (Sacked every 6.7 throws). However, you don't have to go far to say this is a Rob Johnson/Doug Flutie sack debate. The immortal John Skelton, who filled in for Kolb after getting hurt, was sacked 15 times on just 201 throws (Sacked every 13.4 pass attempts). Keep in mind Kolb was sacked 21 times when he faced only four rushers and that he hardly face the blitz (56 attempts), because teams could easily get to him with just a 4-man rush.
Now, in fairness, Kolb was actually pretty respectable in Philly when it came to avoiding the rush, getting sacked 18 times on 285 attempts for his career there. You can maybe chalk that up to better talent in Philly (I agree) and a system that better suits him (I hate that excuse, as I feel it is used too many times in the NFL), but where is he going now, talent-wise? This ain't Philly, circa 2010/2009. The Eagles weapons were better than what the Bills have to offer today.
Vertical game: We all know by now that the Bills hardly went down the field last year when it came to passing plays. Whether it was Fitzpatrick's arm strength or the design of the offense, he was less than adequate when it came to his down the field throws. On passes that traveled beyond 20 yards, Fitz was 11 of 48. That's less than 30%. That's fucken awful. And then there's Kolb's down the field accuracy. Last year, he was 4-12 on throws beyond 20 yards. In 2011, Kolb was 7 of 19 and in 2010 he was 6 of 20 on those throws. That's all around the 30% mark. Not good. Overall, in games in which Kolb attempted 20 passes or more, his yards per completion was less than 6 yards in 8 of those games. Also not good.
Philly years: Since we can all agree that Kolb was awful in Arizona – for God sakes, the Bills defense shut him down last year – some want to use his numbers in Philly to argue that he's maybe better than what he's shown. Amazingly, Kolb only started 7 games in Philly and appeared in 19 other games. Yet he cost the Eagles a 2nd rounder and a starting CB. God, doesn't he just reek of Rob Johnson here?
In his first two starts in 2009, Kolb was 1-1 as a starter, throwing for 718 yards, 4 TDs and 3 INTs. Not bad, right? Yeah, not until you start diving deeper. In a blow-out loss to the Saints, who ended the season with the 20th best defense in the NFL, Kolb was sacked 7 times and turned the ball over 4 times. In his lone victory that season against the Chiefs, Kolb played well, throwing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns while not getting sacked. However, the Chiefs were awful that season, finishing 4-12 and had the 29th ranked defense in the NFL.
Let's go to 2010…This was the year Kolb was anointed as the starter after the Eagles traded away McNabb. In his season opener, Kolb was knocked out of the game after attempting just 10 passes and being sacked 3 times. For the season, Kolb started 5 games, throwing for 1,197 yards, 7 TDs and 7 INTs.
He also ended up losing his job to Mike Vick. His best games came against SF and Atlanta, neither of whom qualified for the playoffs that season. He played like crap against a Redskins team that finished 4-12. (Philly scored 12 points and Kolb finished with 207 yards passing, while averaging less than 6 yards a per completion.) In another poor performance against the Titans, who finished with 28th best defense, Kolb completed less than 55% of his passes and only averaged 4.8 yards a completion.
The bottom line is that Kolb had like 3 decent games against crappy teams. Because teams are hard-up for QBs and will propose marriage after 2 dates and because Andy Reid is called a genius when it comes to his eyes for QBs, Kolb was overrated and got a boatload of cash based on nothing but hope.
After proofreading this, I’ve come away thinking I’m really a miserable fuck when it comes to the QBs. The problem is that I’m stuck with an unknown in Manuel and a guy I know is hot garbage in Kolb. The unknown is exciting for most, but for me, I’ve had enough of imaginary brass rings of hope that became just that…Imaginary. I have zero expectations this year as I’ve pretty much bottomed out when it comes to W/L prediction. I’m not going to get too excited or too down about the team’s season. I love football, I love the Bills, but I don’t love trying to figure out if they are going to be good. But if you want me to pick one area I’d like the Bills to thrive in this year…It is at QB.
Throw everyone else in a volcano and blow them up. If Manuel somehow becomes the man, this will be a win/win year.