EJ Manuel had a bad day against the Steelers, the final stat line was 22/39 for 155 yards and 1 touchdown plus an interception. It was his first game back from a knee injury that has kept him out for the past 4 games with a knee injury without much practice. He looked very rusty in the game and showed major concerns that must be improved if he wants to be an NFL starter long-term.
The first concern I saw was the excessive amount of checkdowns EJ threw. Of his 22 completions on the day, nine of them came from checkdowns. What was worst was the timing on some of these checkdowns. One example of this was with 56 seconds to go in the 1st half on a 3rd and 6, running a 11 personnel group in the gun with three receivers, one running back and a tight end. The Steelers responded with their nickel package and took away the deep threat leaving only Chandler and Fred Jackson open short of the 1st down marker. Instead of throwing it deep and at worse getting an interception, EJ throws to Jackson who is immediately eaten up by the Steelers defense before getting a 1st down. This was a constant problem when on crucial third downs EJ instead of throwing the ball into tight coverage and asking his receiver to make a play, would throw short and force his team to punt.
This showed the second concern I saw which was EJ afraid to throw deep. He only attempted seven passes that traveled more than ten yards with only two for completions plus an interception in tight coverage. This has been an ongoing problem for him this year as he has hesitated to throw deep and instead relying on short passes. This might be on the gameplan by Hackett or Marrone or it could be trust issues EJ is having with his wide receivers. Either way, EJ has to throw deep if he wants to have any success in the NFL. He is tied with Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning for passes thrown more than twenty yards, however he is only completing an awful 25% of them which means accuracy problems deep are a major concern for him. This can be attributed to his tendency to wait until guys are open instead of trying to throw them open. This was a problem he had at FSU but was masked since the competition level was so low. While waiting until guys may work in the ACC where most teams lack the depth to cover FSU’s receivers, in the NFL that will not be the case and throws will have to be made through tight windows and guys have to be thrown open. Part of this problem can be attributed to the coaching which has seemed to handcuff EJ to not make a mistake instead of him playing loose like most teams do with their young QBs. Another cause of this could be EJ doesn’t have the timing with his receivers like he needs. Missing the last two weeks of preseason and the past four works has really hurt him by not allowing him to get the reps he desperately needs with his receivers, which is why he is off so many times with the majority of his receivers. This may be a problem that can be fixed if he stays healthy and plays the rest of the year or it might not be fixed until 2014.
Some solutions to these will be allowing him to be under center more. Against the Steelers he was only under center for 21 of the 64 plays on offense. Being under center will allow EJ to not develop bad footwork habits which are attributed to being in the gun. It will also allow the running game to be better and do play-action more effectively to take shots deep and give him more options. Another solution is just reps. EJ looked to be playing too fast as evident with his overthrow of Stevie Johnson on a fade on the goal line. As EJ gets more practice and more reps the game will slow down and he will start playing like he was in the Cleveland game before the injury when things started to click.
EJ is a rookie and he was considered a project when he was drafted. However he is immensely talented and with proper coaching he could be a great QB. If he improves and plays loose and not so wound up, then the overreactions people made after this game will be brushed aside as just silly talk. If he doesn’t though, he might just be another FSU QB bust.
Written by ArcherNoles