The Bills’ slim playoff hopes pretty much ended in a sad 31-34 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at their “home” game in Toronto. The Bills now sit at 4-8 and are closer to the #1 pick than they are the 6th seed in the AFC. This makes another year in which the Bills miss the playoffs and the way the Bills looked on Sunday, the future does not look the greatest. With the season practically over, the rest of the season will be based on the progression of EJ Manuel and the other young players that the Bills hinge their future on.
EJ has recovered from his knee injury that made him miss four games and he finally looks 100%. Against the Falcons he had his first rushing TD of his career and he has shown the mobility that made him such an intriguing draft prospect. He has played better the past two games against the Jets and Falcons throwing for three TDs, running for one and the big one being zero interceptions. Since the early lows against the Jets and Ravens he has only turned it over once in four games. Protecting the football and playing smart football is something he has shown this year.
That is to say he doesn’t have his flaws as he is a still a rookie and far from a finished product. He still has bad habits with his footwork as there is a tendency of him to rush his throws before getting set which leads to the inaccurate passes that plague him at times during the year. The deep ball is something he doesn’t hit consistently as he still has a habit of throwing it out of bounds and not giving his receiver a chance to make a play. On those same deep balls, it looks like they are pre-planned as whenever Marquis Goodwin goes deep, EJ throws it to him.
These last four weeks will be crucial for his development as he tries to fix those issues and be more consistent as a passer. It will also be a good chance for the young players like Robert Woods, Goodwin and Chris Gragg to get some work with EJ since those three will be crucial for the future of the Bills. I would like to see Robert Woods at the #1, Goodwin at the #2 and have Stevie Johnson on the slot or off the field (especially in the 4th quarter). Woods looks to be EJ’s favorite weapon and the last four games can be used to further develop that connection as both could use a strong last month to build for next season. I would also like to see them open it up more like they did against the Jets game, let EJ air it out more as he needs reps more than anything to get better.
Right now EJ has a 58.2 % with 9 TDs and 4 INTs with a passer rating of 82.7, for a rookie in a run-first offense, those numbers would be considered a success. His accuracy has improved and if he gets above 60% that will help a lot in his momentum for next year. He has improved dramatically from the beginning of the year, and if it wasn’t for a knee injury, he probably would be in the discussion for Offensive Rookie of the Year. If he doesn’t regress in the last 4 games there should be no doubt that he will be the starter next year.
When EJ was drafted, the majority of experts laughed at the pick and said it was a mistake, that he would not be NFL ready for years. His play has shown the opposite of that and has played significantly better than consensus #1 QB Geno Smith. EJ has done this all without a #1 WR or a really good pass-catching Tight End. In the upcoming offseason if they address at least one of those needs, EJ should take the next step and look like the franchise QB the Bills hope him to be. If not, they can always draft Famous Jameis Winston in the 2015 draft (I kid, Winston will be going to the Pats to replace Old Man Brady).