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From the booth: Bills at Jaguars

Posted Dec 17, 2013

Some thoughts left over after a much needed Bills win in Jacksonville Sunday from the radio broadcast booth:

-As good as they’ve been with interceptions this year, the Bills had not achieved much success in forcing fumbles--until Sunday. The Jaguars coughed it up three times in the the game and all three fumbles were forced by Buffalo’s defensive backs.

The Bills went into the game with 7 forced fumbles for the season, with none of them caused by the secondary. Buffalo played seven of their first 14 games without forcing a fumble and they are 2-5 in those games.

Nickell Robey got the first one late in the first half, by punching the ball out of the arms of WR Mike Brown from behind. Robey pounced on the loose ball and the Bills converted the takeaway into a last second field goal before halftime.       

Leodis McKelvin jarred the ball out of the hands of Brown early in the second half with another strong punch. And on the very next play, S Aaron Williams made what may have been the play of the game, coming from the side to chop the ball out of the hands of Jaguars RB Dennard Robinson at the one yard line. Robinson was on his way to the end zone when Williams made the play, and the ball went out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback.  

The three plays illustrate the continuing progress being made in the Buffalo defensive backfield. The DBs now have 16 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles this year, accounting for 70-percent of the Bills 27 takeaways. Only four other NFL teams have more takeaways than Buffalo.

-It’s only ten games of data, but it looks like rookie QB EJ Manuel is a bit of a slow starter in games. It’s puzzling, given how he plays the rest of the game. But the trend continued in Jacksonville, with Manuel misfiring on some relatively simple looking passes on the Bills first three series.  He threw four incompletions and an interception on his first five passes, and Manuel finished the first quarter with two completions in six attempts with the one pick.

For the season, Manuel has a 52-percent completion rate in the first quarter and a quarterback rating of 60.8  He seems to come around eventually, with his his QB rating in the 2nd quarter 88.5,; in the third quarter: 79.1; and in the fourth quarter: 76.8

Head Coach Doug Marrone says he’s aware of the trend and the coaching staff is trying to fix it.

“You do try things that he’s successful with and knows what he’s doing to get him off to a good start,” the coach said Monday.  “I think when you see something like that happening during a game there’s only really two ways to go. You can rely on a running game that eventually will get stopped or you start him getting a good feel and doing things that he feels comfortable with and get him in to a rhythm. “

The good news is that Manuel hangs in there and eventually makes plays in the passing game, as he did Sunday against the Jags.

“The one thing about the kid, “Marrone said, “what you’ve seen over the course of him playing in 10 games now, he can fight his way through that and learn.”

Bills fans no doubt would much rather have Manuel be in the habit of strong finishes rather than starts.

-The Bills would love to see Manuel running the ball as a regular part of their offense. And he had his busiest day carrying the ball in the victory over Jacksonville. Manuel had 10-carries for 37 yards, with several rushing attempts called runs. He ran a perfect read option play with 7:00 left in the first quarter on 3rd and 2 at the Buffalo 22. Manuel watched Jags DE Jason Babin crash down the line of scrimmage chasing Fred Jackson, and the QB ran it outside to pick up the first down. His 8-yard TD run in the second quarter on a QB draw as another example of good decision making by the rookie QB. Manuel’s success on the ground bodes well for the Buffalo offense in the future.

-It may not have been his best run of the year, but Fred Jackson’s 19-yard pickup in the second quarter was my favorite Fred Jackson run of the year. On 1st and 10 at the Jaguars 21, with 3:30 left in the half, Jackson made a quick, nifty move outside as he crossed the line of scrimmage to get into the Jacksonville backfield. Then, he hammered Jaguars DB Josh Evans as he got to the 12 yard line. Jackson delivered the blow, not Evans, and the Jacksonville DB was momentarily stunned. A big first down pickup on Buffalo’s 72-yard scoring drive, with the veteran RB producing 40-of those yards on the ground. Quintessential Fred Jackson.

-Another longtime Bills vet had his best day of the year. Punter Brian Moorman was consistent, with long, booming kicks and outstanding hang time. On Monday, Coach Marrone made notice of Moorman’s contributions to the narrow victory.

“I thought Brian Moorman did a great job switching the field when we need a big punt, “Marrone said.  “He came up with with five second hang times. “ 

-One of the best moments of the game came just after Frank Summers caught the one-yard touchdown pass for a go-ahead score. It was Summers’ second touchdown of the year, but he finally had some room to celebrate. And he did. Summers went through a fairly elaborate pantomime--pretending to knock on a door, then peering into the door while shielding his eyes. His celebration continued with a dismissive wave of his hand and he walked away. But he wasn’t finished. Summers turned around and kicked the air, as if he were kicking in a door. In a way, the 20-second touchdown celebration was a microcosm of Summers five year sojourn on the fringes of the NFL.

“It’s been a long road for me in this league, I’ve been here a while,” Summers told me in the locker room after the game. “This is my first time really, really playing.  Just knocking on the door, kicking it down, and getting excited with the team.”