Bills brass comes to Manuel's defense

There's little doubt that Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel has taken some heat this week, following perhaps his worst performance to date in Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bills have sent a clear message in response: Manuel is still young, he's still developing and he's still their starting quarterback.

It started Wednesday morning, when CEO Russ Brandon brought up a statistic in his weekly radio appearance on WGR 550 in Buffalo.

"If you look at where he was heading, in his first five games, you take a look at some statistics, and of the 10 rookie quarterbacks that have started the first five games since 2000, he had a passer rating that was the third-highest among those quarterbacks," Brandon said.

It continued later Wednesday, when coach Doug Marrone brought up the same statistic.

"When you look at quarterbacks with five starts and you go back to 2000 with all the young quarterbacks, he has the third-best rating out of all those quarterbacks," Marrone said.

The Bills later posted a chart to their official website, showing Manuel (with a passer rating of 79.4) as behind just Cam Newton (84.3) and Geno Smith (80.3). The list includes a qualifier of at least 150 pass attempts, the exact amount that Manuel had though five games.

In 2012, however, Robert Griffin III started the first five games of the season for the Washington Redskins. He only attempted 139 passes, but had a passer rating of 101.0 in those games, along with a completion percentage of 69.1 and an average of 8.35 yards per attempt, all higher than Manuel. So while Griffin doesn't fit the Bills' cut-off in their internal study, it would be misleading not to include him.

On the flip side, the list does not include Matt Ryan, who started the first five games of his rookie season in 2008. In 131 attempts, Ryan had a passer rating of 75.3 and a completion percentage of 54.2, both lower than Manuel. The story was similar for Joe Flacco the same season, who had a passer rating of 60.6 in his first five starts, on 144 attempts.

Flacco, of course, was named Super Bowl MVP this past February, and his eventual success plays right into the Bills' point: Those expecting instant results with Manuel may not be satisfied. Instead, the Bills are preaching patience with their first-round pick.

How long that patience lasts, however, is up for debate. If the Bills want to compare Manuel's first five games with his historical peers, it would only make sense to extend that comparison into the next five games.

Here's a glimpse, then, of how the quarterbacks on the Bills' list, plus some other notables, fared in their second stretch of five games: