Benching EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton Short-Sighted Move by Scuffling Bills

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystSeptember 29, 2014

AP Images

Two weeks ago, it was all smiles in Western New York. The Buffalo Bills announced the sale of the team to Terry Pegula, a move that would ensure the team stayed in Buffalo. The Bills were a surprising 2-0, all alone atop the AFC East.

Now, after back-to-back losses, the Bills are making a switch at quarterback, and while benching EJ Manuel in favor of veteran Kyle Orton may help the team win a game or two in the short term, it's hard to see what exactly head coach Doug Marrone really hopes to accomplish with the switch.

Michael Fabiano of was among the first to report that the Bills were making the switch:

According to ESPN's Mike Rodak, Marrone said he came to the decision on his own Monday afternoon:

Marrone expanded on his thinking behind the decision while speaking with Chris Brown of the team's website:

Obviously as the head coach you’ve got to evaluate everything and at the end of the day you’ve got to make the right decisions with your mind and when you’re able to see things and with your heart. The one thing when you go to bed at night you have to make sure you’re making the best decisions to help our football team win. In saying that we’re going to make a change at quarterback. Kyle Orton will go in there.

The move isn't exactly a stunner. From the moment he signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Bills before the season, there were those who speculated that Orton wasn't being paid that much money to just hold a clipboard.

Even so, making this move would appear to say one of two things about the Bills, and neither of them are especially good.

Either they're panicking and making a knee-jerk move, or they're a lousy judge of talent.

Granted, no one is going to say that Manuel has lived up to his draft slot after being taken 16th overall by the Bills in 2013.

EJ Manuel Career Stats
Per Pro Football Reference

A year ago, only Chad Henne of the Jacksonville Jaguars received a lower grade among NFL quarterbacks at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Manuel had improved that ranking all of one spot this year, to third worst at the position.

As Rodak pointed out, using QBR as a barometer for Manuel's performance doesn't help one bit:

However, the fact that Manuel hasn't lived up to his draft slot isn't exactly his fault:

When the Bills selected Manuel in 2013, it was widely considered the biggest reach of the draft's first round. At the time, Marrone was effusive in his praise for the former Florida State star, according to Sharon Katz of ESPN:

Well I think you could start listing many things. He can throw the football vertically down the field, he has a good arm, he can get himself out of trouble, he can create things with his feet, he has good presence in the huddle, he’s accurate and we are excited to have him.

Now, it's a different tune, but if Marrone wants to know why Manuel has hit a sour note of late, he need look only in the mirror.

Despite it being a close game throughout (that included a 10-0 Bills lead) and the fact that the Bills averaged 4.2 yards a carry against the Houston Texans in Week 4, Marrone and the Bills dialed up 44 pass attempts. 

That's jamming a square peg into a round hole and then blaming the peg for not fitting right.

Is it possible that with Orton at the helm the Bills might win an extra game or two? Yes. However, even after the team's 2-0 start it wasn't like there was a stampede for Bills playoff tickets, and there are plenty of people who think Orton may actually make things worse:

After all, we're not talking about Peyton Manning here. Orton is the definition of a journeyman, a 31-year-old about to start a game for his fifth NFL team.

The "upgrade" from Manuel to Orton is either negligible or nonexistent, and in the meantime a player whom Rodak reported looked visibly shaken after the Houston game gets his confidence rocked yet again:

Quarterback EJ Manuel, who struggled for most of Sunday's game, was one of the last players to leave the Bills' locker room. While most of his teammates changed and headed for the team bus, Manuel sat facing his locker with his head down. A couple of teammates came over to offer Manuel encouragement, but for the most part he was left alone. The second-year quarterback normally is remarkably even-keeled as he meets reporters after games, but I saw a slightly more beleaguered Manuel on Sunday. 

Of course, Marrone is talking the switch up as a chance for Manuel to get right:

How he's going to do that while getting second-team practice reps wasn't mentioned.

It could be that Marrone is hearing footsteps. New ownership often means house-cleaning time in the NFL, and Marrone may think Orton gives the team a better shot at the sorts of short-term gains that could save his job.

Or it may be that Marrone just doesn't think Manuel will develop into even a serviceable starter for the team, although throwing in the towel on a first-round pick after just 14 games certainly doesn't speak well for Marrone's confidence with the Bills front office.

There's that to consider too. Remember, it was only a few weeks ago that Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that director of player personnel Jim Monos, general manager Doug Whaley and Marrone had to be separated after a shouting match on the practice field.

La Canfora reported that the way in which certain players are being used by Marrone is a sticking point for the front office—the same front office that Marrone went out of his way to mention he did not consult when deciding to give Manuel the hook.

Power struggle, anyone?

It could be that any or all of these factors played a part in Marrone's decision, and now the Bills are looking at heading right back to square one at the quarterback position in 2015. That's a problem in its own right, because the Bills dealt their first-rounder in the 2015 draft to Cleveland back in May.

That deal netted them Sammy Watkins, but it looks like Watkins is going to be waiting a while for a franchise quarterback to throw him the ball.

That's because Marrone has apparently decided Manuel isn't the guy, and Orton's had five chances to show us he definitely isn't.

And that leaves the Bills as far from ending their interminable playoff drought as ever.

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.


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