With all the new information coming out about Doug Marrone and the strangle hold he seemed to have over the offensive play calling, I decided to take a look back at EJ Manuel and see if there was anything in particular that looked odd in the way he was playing the game. There was one game in particular that I always remembered from the 2014 season and that was the loss to Houston, week 4.
You might remember this game as the game where EJ Manuel threw a great touchdown pass to JJ Watt to give the Texans the win. I remember watching that game and seeing some very frustrating things, mainly I was watching Sammy Watkins the entire game and watching where the cornerbacks were lining up on him. I found 3 plays in particular that back up and support my thesis: Nathaniel Hackett was using EJ Manuel the same way I do in Madden.
Here’s a 3rd and 5, ball at Houston’s 23 yard line. Notice the coverage; they have 5 guys on the line, 2 linebackers, 2 corners WAY off of Hogan and Watkins, 2 deep safeties. We run a trips on the left with Chandler in front, Watkins split out to the bottom of the screen:
In support of the Madden Theory, EJ Manuel refuses to recognize the blitz, Eric Wood is preoccupied with JJ Watt, the linebacker runs through to EJ who scrambles and moves out of the pocket. 2 things to recognize in this play right off the bat, Robert Woods is standing at the line of scrimmage and Sammy Watkins was apparently running down the line of scrimmage blocking (because that’s the best way to use him). So for those keeping score, on a 3rd and 5, this play with our 2 top wide receivers on or within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage was what we chose. Next up, look at EJ Manuel’s head. If you watch this play live it’s more ridiculous than this, he doesn’t take his eyes off Chandler THE ENTIRE PLAY. As he’s avoiding the sack, he’s looking at Chandler, as he’s running, he’s looking at Chandler:
He throws a bullet to Chandler which is a completion and a 1st and 10. There’s Hogan’s head at the bottom of the screen being covered by a linebacker through the middle, while in the 2 green circles we have Woods and Watkins walking (they literally stopped running) in front of the 1st down marker:
This next play just shows example of how calling a play in Madden just simply works sometimes. This was a touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins, no need to even look at this further, Watkins runs a slant right to the end zone, Manuel gets the ball in the shotgun and just fires it over. He doesn’t even look at the coverage. Bang, bang play, but this one happened to work:
Now for everyone’s favorite play of the 2014 season! This play made me really give up on EJ Manuel as a quarterback. I’ll explain why, then after the play I will explain why we as Buffalo Bills fans could start to have a glimmer of fate in our upcoming quarterback situation. So you can look at this play and see a few glaring things (I’ll exclude the fact that it says 3rd & 2 and it’s 3rd & a long 3), all of which EJ Manuel fails to notice. First, at the bottom of the screen Mike Williams (remember him?) is being given 8 yards of cushion from the cornerback. Second, the top of the screen we have Sammy Watkins being given the same, 8 yards of space. Third, Scott Chandler is being covered by JJ Watt, who is clearly going to blitz, leading me to the next point, they have 7 men on the line of scrimmage. Lastly we are ignoring the tremendous amount of space in the middle of the field.
The ball is snapped, the corner covering Robert Woods blitzes and they send 5 of the 7 men on the line. You can look at the amounts of space that this is creating as at the snap. Chandler runs past JJ Watt, seemingly to start running his route. You can also look at EJ Manuel’s eyes and see he never once looks in the direction of Sammy Watkins, pre or post snap and fails to recognize that there is any opportunity on that side of the field:
This is where things start to get REALLY aggravating! Chandler was out on the field to block anyway, because guess what, it’s a designed screen and we were meant to throw the ball to Jackson! I took this screen shot the second Manuel started his throw, Watkins at the top WIDE open, Mike Williams on the side he’s looking, turning back, open enough but still short of the first down. JJ Watt had his hands up before Manuel started throwing the ball, yet Manuel still hit that A button to throw to Jackson, because that was the play:
So there’s that. EJ Manuel is basically the QB that any novice controls in Madden. You have your route, you look it down, you press the button and hope that it works. Now like I said, perhaps we can look on the bright side of this and perhaps we would be insane for doing so. The Madden Theory I have put forth basically states that EJ Manuel was told to look at one receiver, go with the play that was called, try to minimize mistakes within the system and get 3 points whenever he could. Based on everything we have heard with reports about Marrone controlling the offense, this wouldn’t be too far fetched. One certainty is that EJ Manuel was playing this style of QB, not using his head and not reading his progressions. All we can do is hope that Marrone and Hackett were the cause of this, meaning EJ Manuel can make progress into his next season as an NFL QB.