Why EJ Manuel Had the Most Impressive Rookie Debut

Leo Howell@LeoHowell8Contributor IIISeptember 11, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08:  EJ Manuel #3 of the Buffalo Bills looks to pass against the New England Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 8, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York. New England won 23-21.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Being a rookie quarterback in the NFL isn't easy, and neither is playing quarterback against a division rival with Super Bowl aspirations. That's why EJ Manuel's Week 1 performance was the most impressive of any rookie.

Manuel only finished with 150 yards passing, but it's not passing yards or gaudy, record-setting numbers that set Manuel apart. It was his efficient handling of a new offense against a tough opponent that signals fantastic things to come from the Florida State product.

Manuel threw two touchdown passes and did not turn the ball over, setting the Bills up with a late lead, which would eventually be surpassed on a late field goal from New England. 

So how did the two touchdowns happen?

The first was a wide open pass to Robert Woods, and all Manuel had to do was drop the ball into his hands for six points.

His second touchdown was a bit more special. (Images obtained from NFL Game Rewind)

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Stevie Johnson has lined up in the slot, and he's the primary target for Manuel. 

Manuel decides to get the ball to his best receiver as soon as he realizes that the safety isn't in position to make a play on a deep pass to Johnson. The ball leaves EJ's hands shortly after this image was grabbed.

And as you can see, the safety isn't there in time, and the corner covering Johnson allowed him the inside position, which Manuel took advantage of with a perfect touch pass.

It's that efficiency that drew praise from CBS analyst Dan Marino, which you can watch in the video below.

Marino praised Manuel's ability to improve himself over the course of the game and take care of the football, managing the offense and putting his team in a position to win.

Combine his game management with his decision-making shown on the second touchdown throw and you can see why Manuel was a tough opponent for the favored Patriots.

Manuel made rookie mistakes, and he has things to work on. But he also showed veteran poise and a firm grasp on a brand new offense.

Here's one final example of what Manuel is capable of doing, and why his impressive debut is likely just the beginning of a surprisingly good season. (Images obtained from NFL Game Rewind)

You can see the route trees drawn out, and notice that Manuel has two levels of options over the middle of the field. Throwing down the middle can be dangerous, however, especially if a quarterback is hesitant. But watch how Manuel handles the defensive alignment.

The defenders, circled in red, are keyed in on the underneath route. Manuel has his eyes down the middle of the field, but none of the defenders are aware of the position of Manuel's target, the player circled in black.

And as you can see from the perspective behind Manuel, as soon as the defender in the area of his preferred target (circled in red) breaks toward the short route, he delivers a perfect pass over the middle to lead his receiver for a big gain.

That particular play would be called back for a flag, so it's the classic case of a play that doesn't show on the stat sheet but will be on tape as a positive example of what Manuel can do.

EJ Manuel outclassed his fellow rookies in Week 1 on the 2013-14 season, and he set himself up for a great debut season in Buffalo. If he can continue to make good decisions and limit turnovers and mistakes, he'll be well worth the first round pick used to select him.

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