By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – A sense of urgency has spurned change with the Buffalo
Second-year quarterback EJ Manuel has been benched and veteran Kyle Orton will
start for the Bills on Sunday in Detroit.
Buffalo coach Doug Marrone announced the change Monday, a day after the team’s
23-17 loss in Houston dropped the Bills to 2-2.
“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,” Marrone said, according to
the team’s official website.
Manuel, 24, has completed only 53 percent of his passes in the last two games,
both losses, with three touchdown passes and two interceptions.
The 2013 first-round draft pick has thrown five touchdown passes and three
picks overall in the first four games. He started 10 games as a rookie last
season passing for 1,972 yards and 11 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
Orton, 31, was signed last month after being released by the Dallas Cowboys in
July following speculation he wanted a pay raise and after he was a no-show at
He has also played for Chicago, Denver and Kansas City in his 10-year career,
passing for 15,019 yards and 83 touchdowns with 59 interceptions and a 35-35
record as a starter.
Orton started in place of Tony Romo in the Cowboys’ winner-take-all NFC East
loss to Philadelphia in Week 17 last season after Romo had surgery to repair a
herniated disc in his back.
Last weekend Manuel threw a pair of touchdown passes against the Texans,
including an 80-yarder to Mike Williams in the fourth quarter, but made good
on just 21-of-44 attempts for 225 yards. He also continued to make the game-
The Bills appeared to have the game in control when Nigel Bradham intercepted
a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass that had been deflected by Kyle Williams at the line
of scrimmage. The big play set Buffalo up in the red zone with the team
already on top 10-7.
Two C.J. Spiller rush attempts brought about third down at the Houston 12 and
Manuel had Fred Jackson open in the right flat, but J.J. Watt diagnosed the
play and made a spectacular one-handed grab of Manuel’s short pass attempt,
then raced untouched all the way to the end zone for the momentum-shifting
“You don’t get to be Defensive Player of the Year without having an impact on
a lot of football games,” Marrone said of Watt. “Obviously, he had an impact
in this game.”
Later on, Darryl Morris picked off Manuel with just over a minute left to seal
Jackson finished with six catches totaling 52 yards for Buffalo.
“I think the biggest thing for our team and for myself is to learn from (this
loss), accept it, be a man about it, don’t shy away from it,” said Manuel. “It
is what it is.”
Things have been going far smoother for the Lions, who lead the NFC North
entering Week 5 with a 3-1 record.
Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score last
weekend, as Detroit escaped North Jersey a 24-17 win over the New York Jets.
Stafford finished 24-for-34 for 293 yards and had touchdown passes to Jeremy
Ross and Eric Ebron for the Lions, who have won their past two games.
Star Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson was hobbled by an ankle injury throughout
the game and was never a factor, catching just two passes for 12 yards.
“This was a heck of a game for us,” said Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell. All
the guys on both sides of the ball played well, but I don’t think that this is
as well as we can play.”
The Bills and Lions have met only nine times previously with the series
deadlocked at 4-4-1. Buffalo won the last matchup, 14-10, on Nov. 14, 2010
when Jackson piled up 170 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Lions come in with the No. 1 rated defense in the entire NFL but Motor
City fans are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Remember Detroit was
atop the NFC North in 2013 as late as Week 10 before imploding and dropping
six of their final seven games, a reality which cost Jim Schwartz his job as
the team’s head coach.
Schwartz’s new job is defensive coordinator for the Bills and the irony of the
jettisoned coach returning to Detroit and thumbing his nose against the Lions
is in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.
To do that, however, his stop unit must find a way to slow down a very high-
powered offense with difference makers at all the skill positions and a far
healthier Johnson this week.
“I think you have a number of guys that understand what the situation is and
understand the problems they’ve had maybe previously in some situations,”
Caldwell said. “You have a group of guys with enough leaders that have sort of
taken that cause on themselves.”
For the Bills the QB change is obviously the biggest news, a development you
can probably trace back to Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula’s agreement to
purchase the Bills from the Wilson family trust, a deal which is expected to
be approved by the NFL owners at their meeting in New York City on Oct. 8.
The conventional thinking is these types of situations is that new ownership
likes to bring in its own people for high-level managerial positions and that
has created a win-now mentality for both Marrone and Bills general manager
Meanwhile, New England’s struggles have opened up the AFC East for everyone
and, despite the two consecutive losses, the Bills are tied atop the division
with both the Pats and the Miami Dolphins.
If the quarterback was carrying his own water there is little doubt that
Buffalo would be alone atop the standings and that was the impetus for the
“It’s not all EJ’s fault, but we need to get better production out of that
position,” Marrone admitted. “We’ve got to make some changes because we can’t
keep going in the direction that we’re going.”
The Bills are just 27th in total offense with Manuel running the show despite
some very solid skill position talent of their own, which features Jackson and
Spiller at running back, along with rookie star Sammy Watkins, Williams
and Robert Woods at receiver.
“It’s not a one-man show,” Spiller said. “(But) in this league, the
quarterback is the focal point and the emphasis of wins and losses of teams.”
Orton is a completely different QB than Manuel. Buffalo is giving up some
athleticism in favor of a prototypical pocket-style passer who can make quick
decisions and get the ball out quickly.
“We just had a different approach to practice,” Watkins said. “(Orton) demands
what he wants out of us. He’s more of a veteran guy. The way he talked, the
way he handles business, the way he looks at plays and breaks down defenses,
it’s kind of different than E.J. He reads it quicker, the ball is coming out
Orton has actually never lost to the Lions as a starter, compiling a 4-0 mark
and passing for 822 yards with four TDs in those contests. Meanwhile, nobody
should know how to stop the Lions offense better than Schwartz.
That said, the NFL is about talent and Detroit has a little too much of it to
stumble at home against this Bills team.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Lions 30, Bills 23