A starting quarterback in New York found himself relegated to second string today and for those expecting it to be Michael Vick relieving Geno Smith of his duties you would be wrong. Buffalo Bills’ head coach Doug Marrone announced that Kyle Orton would be replacing 2013 first round draft pick EJ Manuel as the Bills’ starter heading into a Week Five match-up with the Detroit Lions.
Manuel has been shaky in his first four starts of the season, completing 58 percent of his passes for 838 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions at a rate of 6.40 yards per attempt. Decent enough numbers but game film tells a different story. Manuel’s completion percentage has dropped in each of his first four starts this season along with his QBR (a quarterback rating developed by ESPN that is measured on a scale of 1 to 100). His accuracy has been way off the mark and he does not seem to be on the same page with his receivers half the time.
Accordingly Manuel has the second worst QBR through the first four weeks of the season, second only to Chad Henne of the Jacksonville Jaguars who has already lost his starting job. Manuel’s 19.8 QBR (remember 100 is a perfect score with this metric) represents a significant drop from even his rookie year total QBR of 42.3 (still below average) indicating that Manuel is regressing before our eyes even with more offensive weapons surrounding him this season.
In Sunday’s loss to the Texans Manuel’s QBR of 7.4 was the second straight week that his rating was in the single digits; the first time that has occurred since Brady Quinn “accomplished” the same feat in 2012 with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Manuel has been criticized for being too reliant on check downs and lacks the confidence or comfort level necessary to attempt big plays that would rally his team when facing a deficit. When making the announcement Marrone stated that more production was needed from the position and that the Bills’ were a playoff caliber team, implying that the team was being held back by the lack of efficiency at the quarterback position. Marrone said that “we can’t keep going in the direction that we’re going” and that the decision was his and the coaching staff’s alone and was not sent down from management.
Certainly with the announcement of a new owner three weeks ago Marrone has to feel the mounting pressure to produce a winning season or face losing his job just two years after being hired. It would be naive to think that that scenario didn’t factor into his decision to give Manuel the quick hook after just 14 starts as an NFL quarterback. Manuel’s 6-8 record is not stellar but it is becoming increasingly clear that there is little room for patience and time for development in this league – too much money and too many jobs are on the line and that, as much as his shaky on-field performance, is the reason Manuel finds himself on the bench in favor of a veteran quarterback.
Orton certainly brings experience to the table – something Manuel is working on gaining – but is he really that much of an upgrade over Manuel? Entering his tenth season in the league Orton’s best season came in 2009 with the Denver Broncos when he threw for 3,802 yards, completing 62 percent of his passes for 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions but his career stats aren’t that different from Manuel’s: 58.5 completion percentage on 6.63 yards per attempt for 83 touchdowns and 87 interceptions. Those numbers would seem to indicate that Orton isn’t all that much more accurate, mistake-averse, or a down field threat than Manuel is.
Instead this feels like change for change’s sake and a bit of a panic move by a team that hasn’t drafted a quarterback that has produced a winning record since taking Jim Kelly with the 12th pick in the 1983 draft and hasn’t had a quarterback with a winning record period since Doug Flutie was their starter following Kelly’s retirement in 1996. Couple that with a coach (and quite possibly a general manager) feeling his job security slipping away with every throw his starting quarterback made and that is how you end up with Kyle Orton replacing EJ Manuel just four weeks into the 2014 season.
Will it be enough to keep the Bills in the AFC East race? With upcoming games against the Lions and New England Patriots we will soon find out.