Are Buffalo Bills Making the Right Call Sitting Jeff Tuel for Thad Lewis?
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When it comes to replacing an injured player, imitation is the smartest form of desperation.
Tuel, an undrafted rookie, replaced starting quarterback EJ Manuel when this year's 16th overall pick suffered an LCL sprain Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns. It was an uninspiring performance from the primary backup, who went 8-of-20 passing for 80 yards and threw the game-ending pick-six.
The Bills know, whether it's Tuel or Lewis, that life could be tough without Manuel for anywhere from "a few weeks," according to head coach Doug Marrone, to the next six to eight weeks, according to a report from Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 SportsRadio. Naming Lewis the starter allows the Bills the smoothest transition away from Manuel for whatever period of time he may be gone.
#Bills Doug Marrone on QB Thad Lewis: Experience, knows the system, can run the read-option and scramble. Great arm.— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) October 7, 2013
Lewis' skill set makes him a much nearer fit for the Bills offense than Tuel, who lacks both the natural mobility and the big arm of Manuel.
Tuel has good timed speed, and ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at Washington State's pro day, but he'll never be confused for a running threat at quarterback. He rushed for just two touchdowns in his college career.
The Bills saw very little of Tuel in their Week 5 contest against the Browns, with Tuel coming into the game with just more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. Tuel played well in the preseason, going 31-for-43 (72.1 percent) for 299 yards (7 YPA), two touchdowns and a 106.6 passer rating, albeit mostly against second- and third-string defenses. He looked comfortable running the offense this summer, but he didn't carry over that comfortability into his first regular-season action.
Tuel was inaccurate at times, indecisive at others, and his limitations in arm strength make life all too similar to one former Bills quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Even the Amish Rifle rarely missed a wide-open receiver in the 10-yard window beyond the line of scrimmage.
On this play, a 2nd-and-6 in the third quarter, rookie wide receiver Robert Woods ran a five-yard out and became wide open as he broke toward the sideline. In Tuel's defense, Woods ran the route a little past five yards, and had he cut his route perfectly, he might have been able to reach down and make a difficult shoestring catch.
When the window is that wide open, though, you can't afford to miss.
Tuel also got a little taste of life as Fitzpatrick in the NFL when safety T.J. Ward crept into the box to make an interception and return it for a touchdown.
Defenders used to cheat the underneath routes all the time against Fitzpatrick in Buffalo because they knew he wasn't much of a threat to throw the ball down field accurately.
Simply put, Lewis is the closest thing the Bills have to Manuel.
Lewis has one career start in the NFL under his belt, a Week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last season as a member of the Browns. While he didn't light it up by any stretch (22-of-32 passing, 204 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 83.3 passer rating), he was serviceable, and kept his team in the game until the end.
One of his touchdown passes went to wide receiver Greg Little in the back of the end zone on a play that looked Manuel-ian, with the quarterback buying himself some time in the pocket with his legs and waiting for his man to come open.
As evidenced by his stat line, he threw some accurate balls against last year's No. 1 pass defense.
The Bengals defense is similarly stout, having held opponents to 221 passing yards per game and just a 76.7 overall passer rating. They make hay with primarily four-man rushes and man coverage on the receivers.
That means there could be some opportunities for Lewis to scramble, if the defense's back is turned.
Lewis has solid accuracy from the pocket, but needs his receivers to help him out.
There were several misreads between the receivers and the quarterback, which led to some bad balls.
The Bills faced 2nd-and-10 from their own 19-yard line, and came out in the shotgun with three pass-catchers out wide on the left, one on the right and running back Tashard Choice in the backfield. The route combination on the left created an opening in the defense for a throw to Woods.
However, the two players read the play differently.
Woods sat down in the hole in coverage, and Tuel thought Woods was going to keep going toward the sideline. The result was a pass that went wide of the mark.
That's just a case of a quarterback and receiver not getting a lot of reps together, so we can expect a few more like this with Lewis at quarterback. He's been on the practice squad since final cutdowns following training camp, and he wasn't taking first-team reps with the Bills offense in practices.
Who is the better option to start for the Bills?
Where Lewis separates himself, however, is where he draws himself closer to what the Bills already had on the field. Lewis' similar skill set to Manuel's makes him the right choice to start for the Bills against the Bengals.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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