Two rookie quarterbacks will be squaring off when the Buffalo Bills take on the New York Jets in New Jersey this weekend. EJ Manuel and Geno Smith are both 1-1 in their first two NFL starts, with one-point wins over NFC South teams and one-score losses to the New England Patriots on the books.
Statistically, that's where the comparisons end - particularly after their respective Week 2 performances, when Manuel engineered a game-winning scoring drive and Smith threw three fourth-quarter interceptions in a loss. Here's where the two players stand after two games apiece.
Taking a closer look at the tape, however, tells a slightly different story than the numbers do. (Don't get me wrong, the numbers tell an important story; Manuel is in a better place development-wise than Smith is right now.)
When you compare the two making throws - particularly throws down the field, which NFL quarterbacks need to do consistently to stick in this league - things even out a bit. In Week 2, Smith may have even been better in that particular facet of the game. Take a look at the gallery above for an in-depth look at how Manuel and Smith fared on vertical throws this past week; hover over the photos for explanations of what you're seeing.
Despite the gap between the two that exists almost exclusively because Manuel has avoided big mistakes and Smith hasn't (and the fact that Manuel has a game-winning drive on his CV and doesn't play for the Jets certainly helps), the gap between the two as passers isn't huge. Manuel is the hotter hand right now, but those anointing him while simultaneously writing off Smith as a bad job may end up grievously mistaken, and possibly as soon as Week 3.
Take away the surrounding circumstances - the turmoil that is the Jets organization, the relative stability afforded the Bills in year one of a new regime, et al - and the Bills and the Jets are remarkably similar football teams entering their showdown this Sunday. Both are 1-1 in two closely contested football games. Both teams run virtually the same defense. And, despite conventional wisdom, both feature rookie quarterbacks on a relatively even playing field.