NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT
Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone knew it wasn't going to be a smooth ride with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel this season, and Sunday's game in Tampa was bumpier than a landing during a New York blizzard.
Manuel had his worst game as a pro with a 31.2 passer rating, directionally proportionate to the four interceptions he threw. After the game Marrone acknowledged that Manuel "did not play well" and he hinted that he and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett might have to scale back the game plan this week against Jacksonville.
"It's not starting over, don't get me wrong," said Marrone. "We've got to look to see what we can do and probably cut down on what we're doing. If we're not executing then we have to figure out exactly what to do and just start with that. Create a foundation and identity. But at the end of the day does he have to do a better job of that? Absolutely."
Manuel said Wednesday that he feels like he is making progress and has a firm grasp on the playbook and what Marrone and Hackett are asking him to do. However, he also said where he's lacking right now is general knowledge of how teams play defense in the NFL. He's seen a few different schemes, but he hasn't seen them all, and that's what is creating trouble.
"It depends on what defense we go against," Manuel said. "Tampa does a lot of things with the cover two and we haven't faced that a lot. That's not an excuse, you have to be able to adjust, this is the NFL and defenses are going to throw different things at you. It's just part of my maturation, getting used to defenses being different every Sunday. I just have to bite the bullet on this one and move forward."
Manuel ranks 31st in the NFL in passer rating at 75.4, he's 32nd in completion percentage at 57.8 percent, and he now has eight interceptions compared to nine touchdowns. His record as a starter fell to 3-6 with the debacle in Tampa Bay.
"He has the ability to do it, there's no doubt in my mind," Marrone said. "The problem is that it's like anything else; he's going to take a lot of the heat because of the position and that comes with it. He's hard on himself, and we all understand it's a difficult position. If everyone on this team was being evaluated like a quarterback, you can find a lot of things that are going on that's not consistent. For him, does he have to get better? Yes he does, in a lot of areas, and he is, even though at times you can't see it in the performance."
Manuel has now had four games where he hasn't reached 200 yards passing, and one of the biggest issues has been his inability to pull the trigger. There have been countless situations this year where he'd had receivers open, but he either stayed on his primary read too long, or wasn't confident enough to make the throw and settled for a check down option.
"I've got to get better as a quarterback," Manuel said. "I have to do a way better job to move on to the second guy. It's my responsibility to do that and I have to go hard at everything during the week and just prepare even better."
To his credit, his confidence did not seem shaken by the loss in Tampa Bay. He watched the tape, saw his mistakes, and has gone back to work to try to correct them as the Bills began getting ready for a second straight game in Florida, this time at Jacksonville.
"Beside the turnovers, I think there still was some good in the tape," he said. "Things that we can build upon, but nonetheless, not to score a touchdown and to only get two field goals throughout the whole game, that's extremely disappointing as a quarterback of this team. We have to do tremendously better this Sunday."
He'll have to do it against a Jaguars team that lost its first eight games of the year, but has now won four of its last five. Despite that progress, Jacksonville still ranks low in most defensive categories including 30th in points allowed, 29th in yards, and dead last in sacks (only 23).
"I think in the big picture of everything, I'm still learning how to prepare for a game every Sunday, how to prepare for the nuances between each defense," he said. "It's everything that goes into getting ready to play a football game, and as a professional, so I just have to continue to chip in and chip away at it."
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series, 6-5, including 34-18 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2012. Buffalo's last visit to Jacksonville resulted in an 18-15 loss in 2009. These teams actually played in the postseason before they ever me in the regular season - in the 1996 playoffs, the Jaguars came to Buffalo and won 30-27 in what turned out to be Jim Kelly's last NFL game.
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES
-- Defensive back Jonathan Meeks has been on injured reserve since Oct. 14, but he carried the designated to return tag and the Bills activated him Tuesday. To make room on the 53-man roster the team released linebacker Jamaal Westerman. Meeks has been back to practice since Nov. 25. The team also signed wide receiver Brandon Kaufman to its practice squad. Kaufman was with the team in the offseason and was cut following training camp. To make room, wide receiver Tommy Streeter was released.
-- Right guard Kraig Urbik suffered a foot injury in Tampa, did not practice Wednesday, and coach Doug Marrone said his availability for Jacksonvile will likely be a game-day decision. "It was sore after the game, we thought it would be better, and it's not," said Marrone. Thus, newcomer J.J. 'Unga may have to step in and start. 'Unga was signed off Baltimore's practice squad on Nov. 20, but he saw playing time against Tampa before and after Urbik got hurt.
"Well, sometimes you get forced to do that," Marrone said of the need to plug in 'Unga immediately, though it doesn't say a whole lot for guards Antoine McClain and Mask Asper who pre-dated 'Unga as in-season pick-ups by the Bills. "Sometimes that's a good thing where you just put somebody in there. It's someone we were looking to get more reps from. If Kraig is available then we're probably going to increase J.J.'s reps anyway, depending on the limitations on Kraig. If Kraig's not, we'll put J.J. in there and go."
-- FS Jairus Byrd is making a strong case for the Bills to pay him the money he believes he deserves. After a contentious offseason during which Byrd was angered by Buffalo's franchise tag designation, he missed almost all of training camp, and then sat out the first five games with plantar fasciitis. Since returning, he has four interceptions in eight games. He will be a free agent this offseason, too, and will want to cash in. Byrd now has 22 picks, 10 forced fumbles ad five fumble recoveries in less than five seasons.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Players in Bills history who have reached at least 4,000 yards rushing yards and 2,000 receiving yards in their career with Buffalo. Fred Jackson has now joined Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas in that exclusive company.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to finish this season strong and we have an opportunity to go out and play a game against an opponent that's struggling like we are, so we just have to go out and take advantage of it." -- RB Fred Jackson on the Bills' need to end their two-game slide.
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- RB Fred Jackson is now one of eight players in team history with at least 25 rushing touchdowns.
-- WR Marquise Goodwin has not caught a pass in the last two games and has only 16 receptions this season, though he has scored three times, all on passes of more than 40 yards.
-- CB Leodis McKelvin leads the Bills with 15 passes defensed which is a new career-high for the sixth-year player.
-- QB EJ Manuel is 16 completions shy of setting a new team record for a rookie passer. The mark is 178 set by Dennis Shaw in 1970.
-- TE Scott Chandler is the first Bills TE in history to surpass 500 yards receiving in back-to-back seasons.
-- WR Robert Woods is ninth among rookie receivers in the NFL with 408 yards.
-- SS Aaron Williams has made a career-best 78 tackles, a total that is tied for ninth in the NFL among DBs.
-- DT Marcell Dareus has 18 sacks since the start of 2011, second among DTs in the NFL to Geno Atkins of Cincinnati in that span.
-- RG Kraig Urbik sat out practice with a foot injury sustained in the loss to Tampa Bay and will probably be a game-time decision for Jacksonville.
-- CB Brandon Smith suffered an ankle injury in practice Wednesday and his status will likely be questionable.
-- LB Kiko Alonso was limited in practice Wednesday with a sore knee, but it's likely that he'll be ready to play.
The Bills head to Jacksonville in serious need of a victory. In the last two weeks they have lost to an Atlanta team that was 2-9, and a Tampa Bay team that was 3-9. Offensively, EJ Manuel has been wildly inconsistent and he's coming off the worst game of his young career, so the mission for the Bills will be to get him going early and try to flush that memory away.
Coach Doug Marrone has indicated that he wants to see speedy receivers Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham more involved in the game plan, so look for the Bills to use more four-receiver sets against a Jaguars defense that ranks dead last in sacks (23) and is 25th against the pass. Of course, the Jags are also the worst run-defending team in the league, so the Bills won't ignore RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
Defensively, the Bills will come after Jacksonville QB Chad Henne with their pass rush that ranks second in the NFL. The Jaguars will counter by trying to get RB Maurice Jones-Drew going against the NFL's 26th-ranked run defense, but Jacksonville ranks last in rushing, total yards and scoring, so the Bills should be able to shut the Jaguars down.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bills RB C.J. Spiller vs. Jaguars LB Paul Posluszny.
Spiller is having a terrible season, while Posluzny, a former second-round draft pick of the Bills who came to Jacksonville as a free agent in 2011, is having an outstanding season with 126 tackles. This will be the sixth-straight year he has led his team in tackles, three of those with Buffalo. Spiller is due for a breakout, and perhaps it will happen against the Jaguars 27th-ranked run defense.
--Bills defensive line vs. Jaguars offensive line.
Buffalo enters the game with 44 sacks which ranks second in the NFL, while the Jaguars have allowed their QBs to be sacked 40 times, including 28 of current starter Chad Henne. If the Bills can generate pressure, Henne is prone to mistakes and he won't be able to utilize his favorite receiver, Cecil Shorts.