Sunday’s preseason opener between the Bills and Giants has opened the floodgates for the over-analyzers. I’m sure you’ve heard it all by now.
“EJ didn’t play well.”
“EJ hasn’t shown improvement with his reads.”
“Doug Marrone should have left EJ in the game longer.”
Relax folks. It was two short series for a second-year player that hadn’t taken a real NFL snap in more than 230 days. I know “ifs” and “buts” don’t count, but imagine if Mike Williams had timed his jump correctly on EJ’s sixth pass attempt. The 16th pick of the 2013 draft would have finished 3-for-6 with a touchdown, and most folks would have been just fine with when Marrone pulled him from the game.
On the flip side, had EJ been more “successful” on Sunday night, most pundits would still say, “Big deal, it’s only the preseason.”
So by playing in a no-win situation in the eyes of most, how in the world do we define success for EJ this preseason? Here’s the preseason Manuel for success.
First and foremost, we need a healthy EJ on the field. This is why I am fine with the amount of snaps he took on Sunday. There are four more exhibitions and a ton of practices remaining before the games count for real on September 7. If EJ is not healthy enough to take snaps, there is no way he can develop into the QB we yearn to see. Just picture the uproar had Marrone left him in the game, only to get hurt in the second quarter. The fact is there is plenty of time to get EJ the snaps he needs to prepare for September.
I want EJ to display more confidence. When he was the “good EJ” last season (mostly every home game), he displayed a lot more of that. He was willing to take shots down the field, and the results were there. Did I see any confidence at Fawcett Stadium? Sure. He was decisive on each of his throws (although the plays were scripted), and he took a few chances with his overthrow to Sammy Watkins and the well-placed ball in the corner of the endzone to Williams.
Whether you watch the film or look strictly at the box score, it is easy to see that EJ was a different QB at home in 2013. Just look at the numbers, they don’t lie. If you count the game versus Atlanta in a foreign city we won’t name, EJ completed 63% of his passes in home contests with an average of 214 yards per game and a 7/3 TD/INT ratio. On the road, EJ’s line was 55%/181 ypg/4 TDs/6 INTs. So while the stats don’t matter this preseason, I want to see a comfortable and confident EJ in the upcoming road games at Carolina and Pittsburgh. Obviously, it’s not the same environment as the regular season, but you have to start somewhere. If he can be more like “home EJ” away from Orchard Park this season, the Bills have a chance to win a lot of games.
Quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Ben Roethlisberger are extra effective at the QB position because they have a knack for keeping their eyes down the field while scrambling. It’s not complicated. When a quarterback extends a play with his legs, receivers break free down the field. EJ has physical gifts that allow him to extend plays, now he needs to take the next step. He may only have the opportunity 2-3 times this preseason, but it would tell me a lot if he is able to slow the game down and keep his eyes down the field when he leaves the pocket.
Notice I didn’t emphasize stats or wins/losses. The preseason is a completely different animal. Teams don’t scheme, and most of the defensive looks are vanilla. With that said, EJ can still show improvement and build momentum heading into the regular season.
I realize it is human nature to panic or get overly excited about one performance. In the case of EJ, I think we just need to remain calm and let this all play out.
Until next time, “BILLieve”