My seasonal assessments are going to have to wait for now. EJ Manuel’s knees once again took center stage this week. Manuel’s knee injury has created a lot of discussion among the fan base regarding durability, missing more developmental time and wondering what other motives there may be for sitting EJ this week versus the Dolphins, aka the Dollies, at The Ralph.
Many fans are rightfully concerned that Manuel has durability issues. Three injuries in one season is a red flag, no matter what way you examine the situation or whatever Coach Marrone needs to tell himself to sleep at night.
I hope Manuel works during the entire off-season to do whatever the trainers think he needs to do to beef up his seemingly problematic knees. Now enter the interesting development that Thad Lewis will be starting against Miami for the second time this season. I did not see that one coming. You would think I would know better by this late stage of my fan hood.
So, is this really a big deal? Well, apparently it is from what I’ve been reading around the web. Interestingly, opinion seems to be somewhat divided regarding this development.
Personally, I have zero issues with Thad Lewis starting against the Dollies for several reasons. First, if Manuel has any instability in the affected knee, weather conditions risk him worsening the condition.
Next, the Bills have Thad Lewis signed through next season, but they would be wise to find out if he has the ability to be the kind of backup quarterback that Ryan Fitzpatrick is for the Titans. Many football analysts say that in the “new” NFL having a HUGE drop off from starting quarterback to backup is probably not a recipe for success, and I tend to agree.
So, it would behoove the Bills to get one more serious look at what Thad Lewis can do stepping in for EJ Manuel. There are quarterbacks who have great offensive lines who rarely get injured like Tom Brady. Then there are quarterbacks like Jay Cutler or Ben Roethlisberger, with less effective offensive lines, who you can count on missing at least 2-4 games or more a season.
Since EJ has had three knee injuries during his rookie season, it is even more important that there not be much drop-off from starter to backup. Can Thad Lewis be that guy?
Not only do I think he can, but I think he gives the Bills a better chance of winning the game against the Dollies at this juncture. Manuel had a decent game last week, but Thad has already won a game against the Dollies this season. In an interview on the Bills’ official site this week, Thad talked about his comfort level in the offense now, compared to the last time he was called to start.
“I’m feeling more comfortable in the offense,” he said. “It was my second time starting and it was six, seven, eight weeks I had only been here. Now the season is almost over. It’s just become routine and very, very familiar with the offense now than I was then.”
It’s very apparent that Lewis doesn’t lack confidence.
Lewis is also at a point in his career where he has now had the opportunity to start a few games in the NFL. The scheme, the speed of the game, and all of his experience from the last time he played the Dolphins will serve him well this week. Lewis also seemed less timid about stretching the field in his first stint compared to Manuel’s time as starter.
On Sunday, Bills fans will get a good long look at Thad Lewis against a Dolphins team coming off of a big divisional win over the Patriots. The Dollies have been in the news more than any team in the league, yet they’ve overcome all of the distractions. The team lost two starting offensive line, yet they’re playing their best football of the season. In spite of themselves, Miami has a decent chance of making the post season.
However, the road to the post season still must go through Buffalo. The Dolphins can still be knocked out of the playoffs if they fail to win their last two games, and other teams do a hodge-podge of things that could work against them. This should provide the Bills with plenty of motivation to win the game.
Buffalo travels to New England the final week of the season. The Bills can’t knock the Patriots out of the playoffs, but they can affect New England’s seeding. Additionally, there remains one very important factor to remember as the last two games play out.
Coach Marrone uttered one little sentence close to the end of his Monday press conference that caught my ear and my curiosity. I replayed the quote several times.
“We have a lot of guys on this team that potentially can return, and I think it’s important that we play well.”
Go back if you want and watch the end of that presser. When you look right at Marrone as he says this, he is dead serious. He became very steely-eyed and you could almost envision an off-season coming with some shocking moves along the way. This team may look much more different than fans expect in 2014.
I’ll get back to my player/coach assessments after the season. Right now, my focus is on how the Bills finish in 2013.