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Hackett's sideline presence helps

Posted Nov 17, 2013

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett called plays from the sidelines for the first time this season.

All season long he’s been upstairs where identifying defensive coverages and personnel groupings sooner makes for quicker play calling for offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

However, the coordinator’s season-long perch was scrapped Sunday in favor of better in game communication between Hackett and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, with Hackett calling plays in from the sideline. If Sunday’s results are any indication Manuel’s progress could be on an upswing.

Manuel completed better than 71 percent of his passes in Buffalo’s dominating 37-14 win over the New York Jets Sunday, including a pair of long touchdowns to T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin. The Bills also converted 42 percent of their third downs.

It was clear the Bills rookie quarterback was far more comfortable than he was last week at Pittsburgh in his return from a knee injury that kept him sidelined for four games.

“Just playing more confident,” said Manuel. “Knowing where I’m going to go with the ball and letting it rip.”

Hackett’s presence on the sideline clearly had something to do with Manuel’s improved poise and confidence.

“We made a decision during the week that we thought it would be better for the quarterback to have Nate down there,” said head coach Doug Marrone. “With a young quarterback, EJ (Manuel), trying to get him back and then with Nate and I down there it’s a different sense. Those guys talk to each other all during the week, they talk to each other all during practice, there’s a little bit separation when he’s upstairs.”

Marrone, an offensive coordinator once himself, admitted it’s easier to make play calls from the coaches’ booth, but the priority was making Manuel as comfortable as possible.

“Just being able to look him in the eye, having that face to face communication instead of being on the mic or on the telephone, it was really good having down there,” said Manuel. “He’s not going back upstairs. He’ll be down there the rest of my career.”

Marrone confirmed that Hackett will remain on the sidelines the rest of the season.

Hackett’s face-to-face encouragement seemed to make a difference as Manuel was more aggressive Sunday despite some blustery conditions.

Coming into the game Manuel for the season averaged just over six yards an attempt. On Sunday he literally threw caution to the wind and averaged 8.75, his highest single game average this season.

“When I looked to the sideline and saw my guy over there and I see coach saying, ‘Hey let’s just go out there and play. It’s just like practice, just go out there and let it fly,’ it helps.”

On Sunday Buffalo’s offense was the beneficiary. On a day when the Bills could not depend on the run game, Manuel’s ability to move the chains with third down conversions and big plays was instrumental to the victory. And what was instrumental to Manuel’s effective play was Hackett’s sideline position.

“That’s what he brings to the sideline,” said Manuel. “He brings that energy and that’s what we needed.”