Ten starts does not an NFL quarterback make. That's why when it comes to the case of EJ Manuel, even Bills GM Doug Whaley still wants to see more before making a definitive judgment on his soon to be second-year quarterback. Everyone is aware of Manuel's 4-6 record as a starter and other noteworthy statistics like his season completion percentage (58.8%) and passer rating (77.7). What's been largely overlooked is what appears to be a clutch factor to Manuel's game that simply can't be taught.
Most presumably remember Manuel's game-winning drive in Week 2 against Carolina, or his promising efforts against Atlanta late which were compromised by a pair of fumbles, and his go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown drive to pull out a win at Jacksonville.
When you break down the game of the Bills quarterback to his performance at the end of halves and the end of games the numbers certainly suggest that EJ Manuel plays his best when the clock is winding down.
Buffalobills.com went through all 10 of Manuel's starts in 2013 and compiled statistics quarter by quarter for the year. As you can see below the general opinion that Manuel got off to slow starts is confirmed somewhat by his 51.7 percent completion percentage in the first quarter this season. However, the second quarter proved to be his best when it came to completing passes, hitting targets almost 63 percent of the time.
From the second and fourth quarter figures Buffalobills.com pulled Manuel's passing statistics from the end of halves and the end of games.
Knowing that opposing defenses typically play more conservatively in the final two minutes of a half or game we elected to compile Manuel's numbers from the last four minutes of a half or game for a more accurate assessment. What we found were markedly improved figures when it came to completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating.
Over the final four minutes of the first half in his 10 starts this past season Manuel completed better than 70 percent of his passes. He also had a pair of touchdowns (one rushing) and no interceptions all good for a 121.7 passer rating.
Manuel's completion percentage climbs even higher when it comes to the final four minutes of games from the 2013 campaign. The Bills quarterback connected on almost 76 percent of his passes and averaged a solid 7.06 yards per attempt. His passer rating was 92.1.
|LAST 4 MINUTES (HALF)||12-17||88||70.5||5.17||2(1 rush)||0||2||121.7|
|LAST 4 MINUTES (GAME)||25-33||233||75.7||7.66||1||1||1||92.1|
Buffalo's personnel boss was encouraged by the performance of his team's young signal caller this season in the pressure-packed moments that come with time winding down on the clock.
"What I liked about him is the games where we needed him most in crunch situations; he gave us a chance to win," said Doug Whaley. "That for me is a very high mark of a characteristic you look at for a quarterback. Things he needs to improve on will come with time, but I think he stood in front of all of that pressure and performed admirably."
"I think one of the best signs he showed this year, was that in key points of games it seems like he made his best throws," said Eric Wood. "That's something you can't teach and something I'm definitely excited about."
Bills head coach Doug Marrone knows there is plenty of ground to cover with his young signal caller, but is encouraged by some of the signs displayed by Manuel particularly when the game was on the line.
"Obviously you could see flashes of it during the season, but again it goes with the consistency," Marrone said. "I think it's very important to note in his first year he played in 10 games with probably the least amount of practices and preparation to play in those games. We feel very comfortable with the future with EJ."
Manuel, who has a great sense of self-awareness, is already focused on applying his performance at the end of halves and the end of games to every series that he's on the field.
"As I continue to grow and have more maturity in the offense and more maturity as a professional at quarterback I think all those things will come full circle and I'll be able to bring the later parts of the game where I'm playing well to the beginning of the game and get the whole process to work together," he said. "I think that all comes with experience."
Wood is confident Manuel will get to that point sooner rather than later. He points to Buffalo's overtime loss to Atlanta as an example why.
"The Atlanta game is one of the reasons why I think he is a clutch player," said Wood. "The game is on the line late and he puts the ball on a rope 30 yards downfield in a spot where only our guys can get it on two throws. When we started that drive he gets in the huddle and he's got a smile on his face. He's unaffected by the do or die moments in games.
"Now we just have to get him where his best throws aren't only at the end of games. We've got to get him where he thinks every throw is that important."
Manuel is confident he'll make that step as he's committed to a rigorous offseason of work in the film room as much as on the field.
"I'm very certain (I'll improve)," he said. "I've had some good games. There is a lot I can take and build from that. I'm just going to hone in and focus on this offseason and get better."
"He will be settled in and become a better pro this offseason," said Whaley. "Again I say the step between year one and year two is usually dramatic for most players."
"He's a guy that I have a lot of confidence in moving forward and a guy that I'm excited to work with and excited to watch him grow because of the amount of talent he has and his work ethic," said Wood. "He could be a really special player in this league."