The Bills have had bad luck with knees recently.
First, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's knee injury turned out to be nothing serious. Then, Bills quarterback EJ Manuel had some swelling in his knee the day after the Bills' 20-16 win over the Vikings on Friday.
#Bills Doug Marrone: EJ Manuel had swelling in left knee this morning. MRI revealed need for minor knee procedure that has been scheduled.— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) August 17, 2013
At this point, Manuel's status for Week 1 is in some doubt. The timetable for his recovery is a tricky subject for Marrone.
"I think what we’re going to do is let’s not talk about the timetable until we get through this preseason," Marrone said on Sunday. "I understand he’s not going to be here for the preseason, but any time after that my expectation is he’ll be day to day after that."
A tricky subject could call for a tricky decision: would the Bills rather roll with Manuel at less than 100 percent, or veteran journeyman Kevin Kolb at full health?
It was beginning to look like the battle for the starting job at quarterback was nearing its end, with Manuel to be announced the winner, until his injury changed the complexion of the competition.
It should be noted, however, that Kolb was the quarterback when the Cardinals beat the Patriots, 20-18, at Gillette Stadium in Week 2 of the 2012 season. He went 15-for-27 (55.6 percent) for 140 yards (5.2 yards per attempt) and a touchdown. The 2012 Cardinals, despite having wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at their disposal, were not as talented from top to bottom as the 2013 Bills.
Whether more talent translates to more wins, or a win in Week 1, remains to be seen.
Even with that historical anecdote, the Bills can only hope Manuel is ready to go against the Patriots.
The Patriots also have not fared well recently against quarterbacks that present the threat of the run.
They faced Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2012, and although the two quarterbacks rushed only 12 times for 45 yards, they went a combined 30-for-52 (57.7 percent) through the air for 514 yards (9.9 YPA), seven touchdowns and one interception.
Whether it's Kolb or Manuel, the Patriots are not likely to see much of a vertical passing game. Manuel has not had much of an opportunity to cut loose on those deep passes, but he has thrown just three pass attempts of over 15 yards, and Kolb attempted just 28 such passes in 2012 out of 183 attempts (15.3 percent), shockingly even less than Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (17.6 percent).
Interestingly enough, EJ Manuel hasn't thrown more than three passes deeper than 15 yards. Here is a table of all his throws against the Colts (routes in red, Manuel threw twice).
Here is the same chart for his performance against the Vikings.
Thus, whether it's Manuel or Kolb throwing the ball, the game plan may be to keep the passing short. That's the name of the game with the West Coast offense, which the Bills now run under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
The Bills will likely get a better idea of whether Manuel can play once his rehab is done and he's back on the field throwing again, but for now, they can only hope their rookie quarterback, and quarterback of the future, is ready to go when the 2013 season kicks off.
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