Beyond the stats: Short Passes Progressively Get Shorter

EJ Manuel completed the exact same number of passes this week as he did last week and had just one more pass attempt. Both games were losses, but the Bills were two untimely fumbles away from winning a week ago. This week, they were blown out by a Tampa Bay team that looked ready to compete for the first overall pick in the spring just a few weeks ago. Both teams are now 4-9. Since his return from a knee injury, Manuel has completed 59% of his passes and averaged 6.02 yards per attempt.

Nine of Manuel’s 33 pass attempts in Tampa were thrown to or behind the line of scrimmage. All nine were in the second half of the game. The Bills said they plan on limiting Manuel a bit more in the coming games, but it seems they started doing that at the end of the game this past week. The graph below shows the progression of pass depth as the game wore on in Tampa. The depth absolutely drops off at the end of the third quarter (40 minute mark).

Limiting EJ


Also in the second half, six of the nine passes that weren’t behind the line of scrimmage (yes, just nine were thrown past the line of scrimmage in the second half) were thrown inside the numbers. Manuel’s been good inside the numbers (because those are shorter throws) the whole season. He completed eleven of his eighteen attempts there for 137 yards (7.61 yards per attempt) and an average target depth of 7.11 yards past the line of scrimmage. But he did throw two interceptions there (the one to Stevie Johnson wasn’t really his fault). The passes thrown inside the numbers are below.

Inside Numbers


Speaking of Johnson, Manuel completed just five of the eleven passes targeted for him. Two passes were intercepted, including Johnson’s drop/tip. Johnson’s average target depth was 7.7 yards.  A third of Buffalo’s passes being targeted for Johnson and the receiver gained just 67 yards (26 after the catch), which is slightly more than Buffalo’s total receiving yards.

Manuel was best on second down (aside from the three interceptions). There, he passed for 101 yards thanks to throwing further down field than on other downs. The table below shows Manuel’s passing by down against the Buccaneers.



Manuel was also successful when he needed between five and nine yards to get a first down. In those situations, he completed five of his eight attempts for 74 yards. Again, he was throwing the ball down field more often than in other situations (9.25 average target depth). He also facilitated some yardage after the catch, as the receivers gained 33 yards after the catch. It isn’t surprising, however, that all of those eight passes were thrown inside the numbers.

Everything was short and the throws got progressively shorter. A lot were inside the numbers too. Manuel’s entire game is below.

EJ Wk 14

Hopefully we get a bounce back game like the second Jets performance, but it’s going to be another game away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. The chances are that Manuel is asked to play much like he did in the second half this week. Expect a lot of short passes with the hopes of big gains after the catch and be pleasantly surprised if we get some Marquise Goodwin bombs.


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