I would say E.J. Manuel is possibly the Rookie of the Month for September. Although the Buffalo Bills, who drafted the QB in the first round out of Florida State, are only 1-2 record-wise going into this Sunday's game, it certainly appears they have found a genuine quarterback who can lead them into parts unknown in the future.
Manuel will be a challenge for the Ravens defense in Buffalo. At 6-5, 240, he's of the mobile quarterback mold…and he's completed almost 60 percent of his passes with only 1 INT in his first three NFL games.
Manuel is 64 for 108 in passing with 4 TD's. He has also rushed for 76 yards in 13 run attempts.
He has the ability to run the read option, but is still more of a traditional pocket passer. Manuel has shown promise in his young career, and Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said that “his development has been very rapid.” The Ravens often try to confuse young quarterbacks and force them into mistakes, and that could certainly be the case again Sunday as the defense looks to continue a streak of eight straight quarters without allowing a touchdown.
Remember Week 1 when Manuel and the Bills nearly beat New England? A lot of the reason for that close call was Manuel's coolness under pressure. But the fact is, the Patriots did not dial up much blitz pressure against him in that game.
His coach Doug Marrone is wisely playing down how well and rapidly Manuel has seemed to develop:
Marrone: Manuel has not 'arrived' yet
Doug Marrone is enjoying EJ Manuel's strong start as much as anyone, but if you ask the coach if his star rookie has "arrived," you'll apparently elicit a hearty chuckle.
But the last young QB who could run the read option and also beat the Ravens from a traditional passing pocket was Dennis Dixon when he was with the Steelers. It wasn't that long ago… So the Ravens will not take Manuel's presence lightly.
It’s a new era in Buffalo, as Doug Marrone took over for Chan Gailey as the 16th head coach in team history. Marrone had never been an NFL head coach prior to joining the Bills, and he accumulated a 25-25 record during his four seasons as the top man for Syracuse. Marrone, a former NFL offensive lineman, is known for being a good offensive mind. He was the New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator from 2006-2008 under Sean Payton, but then left in 2009 to return to his alma mater Syracuse as the head coach.
Garrett Downing of the team's Ravens.com NFL site says we need to know that the Bills are very banged up physically right now, as well as leaking like a sieve on run defense (5 yards per carry opponent average), so maybe any speculation about E.J. Manuel's effect upon this game is purely academic.
The Ravens certainly have the conditions they need to assert themselves physically upon the Bills, as well as get their ground game going again.
The Bills are dealing with injuries in more spots than just the interior of their defensive line. Starting running back C.J. Spiller (quad) and defensive end Mario Williams (ankle) both suffered injuries in last week’s game. Their secondary is depleted, as starting safety Jarius Byrd (foot) and top cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin (hamstring), Stephon Gimore (wrist) and Ron Brooks (foot) are all hurt. Starting wide receiver Stevie Johnson (hamstring) has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the summer. Even kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin) is dealing with an injury, which forced Buffalo to add a free agent kicker just before the start of the regular season.
"The Bills are dealing with some injuries to their defensive front, including defensive tackles Alex Carrington (quad), Kyle Williams (achilles) and Marcell Dareus (ankle), and the Ravens may look to exploit them on the ground," said Garrett Downing.
That would be a good thing for the Ravens to do, since it would also keep the ball out of Manuel's hands for extended chunks of clock. Maybe it's just me, but I'm getting that weird Dennis Dixon feeling about Manuel going up to Buffalo…