Niagara Gazette

Sports

November 11, 2013

MEILER: Manuel, Bills take giant step back

Niagara Gazette — Things went about as poorly as possible Sunday for the Buffalo Bills and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.

Losing to the 2-6 Pittsburgh Steelers was one thing, looking inept offensively in a 23-10 game that was much more a blowout than the score indicates was another. But Manuel’s dud (22 of 39, 155 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) was enough to waste any goodwill built up by Bills fans after watching four weeks of Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel.

Manuel had missed Buffalo’s previous four games after spraining his knee in a loss to Cleveland on Oct. 3. Lewis and Tuel — and the team as a whole, really — looked better than expected and remained competitive during what was probably the toughest stretch of Buffalo’s schedule.

Still, the team went 1-3 without Manuel, and neither backup played well enough with any consistency to stir up any sort of QB controversy. If nothing else, the two made enough boneheaded plays (like game-changing pick-sixes) that Manuel became Bills’ fans savior. If the team could hang with playoff-bound squads like the Cincinnati Bengals, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs with undrafted nobodies in Lewis and Tuel, what could it do with its first-round starter?

Nothing, apparently. The Steelers played a great defensive game Sunday, bucking tradition by dropping into coverage rather than blitzing Manuel, which has been defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s calling card for most of his 40-year coaching career. LeBeau took away Buffalo’s running game, bet that Manuel and Buffalo’s receivers couldn’t beat him, and won.

It’s not all Manuel’s fault. Playing without rookie Robert Woods hurt, leaving Stevie Johnson as the lone receiving threat that could consistently win one-on-one matchups. Then Johnson got hurt, leaving a group of underwhelming receivers that relied on play designs and route combinations to get open.

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