For the time being, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone made the decision to move on from former first-round pick EJ Manuel as the starting quarterback of the franchise. With Manuel stepping aside, veteran journeyman Kyle Orton takes the reins of the offense just barely over a month removed from arriving to Orchard Park.
Part of the allure with Orton is that he's seen almost every situation there is to see in his five stops around the National Football League. He has even switched teams in the middle of the season, had under a month to prepare, and made his first start with the team.
That's why that even though Orton signed with the Bills only four weeks ago, he feels as though he has a good understanding of how to accomplish what the franchise is looking for out of the quarterback position.
"I think we've got the full gamut of plays in and I feel comfortable. I've felt comfortable for the last two or three weeks," the new starting quarterback said Wednesday. "The coaches have done a good job, [quarterbacks coach] Todd Downing has done a great job with me over the four, five weeks that I've been here. I think I feel comfortable with everything in the playbook."
Since he was signed, the Bills have really only been in game planning mode upon the arrival of the regular season. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett focused mostly on getting Manuel ready along with a conducive game plan for both his own offense and against the opponent's defense.
Now that the two have to get friendly and comfortable with one another in a hurry, it's been — and will continue to be — a cramming session to try and prepare Orton for his first start with the Bills.
"Coach [Hackett] and I are gonna have a lot of dialogue throughout the week," the quarterback remarked. "He's trying to get a feel for me a little bit. Obviously as a quarterback you'd love to have a great feel for your coordinator and kind of feel what he's going to call next, just situational stuff. Really the last 48 hours, we've been working hard together."
Orton will make a start for his fifth team in the NFL, and he believes in the offensive talent to get the job done against their upcoming opponents, the Detroit Lions.
"I think we have a lot of good players, all across the board," he said. "We've got young talent on the outside, we've got two running backs that can take a lot of pressure off of us and I think when you ask the offensive line to do the right thing, they can really play hard for you and do a lot of great things. We're going up against a good defense on the road. We're going to have to play our best football to come out with a win."
The Bills will travel to Detroit and square off against the Lions on Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills named Kyle Orton their starting quarterback on Monday, and it didn't take long to find out it wasn't his first rodeo with the media. Speaking with reporters for the first time since the announcement, Orton focused on the 'one game at a time' approach and didn't bite on questions revolving around the bigger picture.
And he wasn't afraid to call out a reporter, either. Orton was asked, "Kyle, why will you run this offense better than EJ [Manuel]?"
His response? Well, let's just say he took a page out of the book from another pretty popular athlete: Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.
Now, the question asked of Orton wasn't nearly as egregious as the one asked of Harper back in 2012. The new Bills starting quarterback took exception, however, and let it be known that he wouldn't play into angles like that one.
As a refresher, here was the exchange with a then 19-year old Harper with a Canadian reporter:
After they marched out to a 2-0 record to start the season, the Buffalo Bills matched that with a two-game losing streak to even out the first quarter of the 2014 regular season. The Bills lost to the Houston Texans 23-17, and found enough reason to change the course of one of their most high profile players because of it.
The Bills will be on the road once again in Week Five with a new starting player, but before they do that, the page must be turned on last week's loss to the Texans. With the help of NFL.com's Game Rewind package and the All-22 film available with it, 'Upon Further Review' brings you a detailed review at how each player on the Bills fared in that specific game.
Every week, WGR will provide you with the standouts, the duds and everything in between.
For each player that appeared in the game on offense or defense, you'll see their name in bold, with a set of numbers after it. Example: Ashton Youboty (54, -2, 2.7). The first number (54) represents the snap count of that game, the second (-2) represents the individual player's plus-minus of positive plays to negative plays in that game. The third number (2.7) represents the weighted Grade Point Average assigned to that player by the author.
OFFENSE (70 total plays)
- As everyone found out on Monday, the Buffalo Bills saw enough from the first four games to determine that it was time to move on from EJ Manuel (70, -13, 0.7), at least for the time being. Manuel has been replaced, and although he faced a lot of pressure from the Houston Texans, he just left too many yards on the field in a game that likely should have ended in a Bills victory.
Early on into the contest, you could tell the Bills were in for a bit of a tough time throwing the ball just as they had in their Week Three loss to San Diego. The offensive line was getting beat all too often, and Manuel didn't have the poise in the pocket to overcompensate for the woes of the front five.
In the first quarter Manuel's struggles while under duress came to fruition on a few separate plays. He couldn't get it anywhere close to Robert Woods on a third down attempt on the first drive of the game, he failed to see Fred Jackson on a clear dump-off pass right in his peripheral sightline that would have yielded at least 10 yards, but instead the quarterback froze and took a sack.
The examples of inaccuracy didn't cease to exist in the second quarter. In fact, they intensified. One of the biggest differences between college quarterbacks and NFL quarterbacks are that the latter ones that manage to find success have the ability to throw their receivers open. They anticipate the spot their receiver is going to get to, and then deliver the ball to a spot that allows the player to get additional yards after the catch.
Of the many reasons that head coach Doug Marrone elected to make the switch at quarterback for Week Five, anticipation and accuracy are chief among them. Manuel, at this point in his career, just does not throw his receivers open.
The Bills had an opportunity for a touchdown in the Houston red zone on a 3rd-and-11. Mike Williams ran a deeper slant in single coverage, cornerback Jonathan Joseph was slow to react and there wasn't a safety over the top, which meant a throw in stride could have gathered a touchdown. Instead, Manuel delivered the pass behind Williams, causing the receiver to stop his momentum to attempt to corral the pass. Even if it was caught, it would have been short of the first down. It wasn't, and the Bills kicked a field goal.
He had a few other misses in the second quarter, including a touch throw to Woods that could have brought a gain of 25 yards or more, a misfire on a deep crossing route to Sammy Watkins with room to run after the catch, and then a few more intermediate routes over the middle of the field to both the aforemnetioned targets.
In the first half, Manuel was at his best when it seemed like he stopped overthinking on one particular play and just reacted. There was a similar instance against San Diego, when the second-year player spun out of multiple tackles in the backfield and found Scott Chandler for a big reception. He did the same thing against Houston on a third down, pushed his eyes down the field and found an open Chandler along the sideline for the first down.
The Bills have made it well known that they don't want turnovers and they don't want their quarterback to get injured on a scramble play. When you watch Manuel perform, you can see all the hours of film work and numerous words spewed at him about taking the safe route. It has hindered him from being him, for the sake of trying to attain a winning formula. Plays like the one to Chandler, and a later 80-yard touchdown throw to Mike Williams are shining examples of him getting out of his own head — which is sorely needed.
In the third quarter, Manuel started off down the wrong path once more. On a predetermined throw before he even snapped the ball, the quarterback intended to throw the ball to a well-covered Fred Jackson in the flat, didn't put the required loft on the pass and the hard-charging J.J. Watt reached up, caught the pass and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown.
That was the most egregious error from his day because it gave the Texans the lead for good, but the rest of the second half wasn't all that kind to Manuel either. He threw two errant passes in 3rd-and-long situations that could have been converted, he was hesitant to scramble even when yards were there to be taken and put the ball in places that both could have been, and in one case, were intercepted by Houston.
Manuel threw two touchdown passes amidst the barrage of Watt breathing down his neck and inaccurate throws, but the damage was done. While the young quarterback needs to endure the 'bust' perception for the time being, this decision could end up being a blessing in disguise.
He can now focus on improving as a quarterback without having to worry about the results on a weekly basis. It takes the pressure off of him for the time being and he might even be able to wipe the slate clean and start anew.
If Manuel wants to succeed in the NFL, he cannot be the type of player he showed to be in the first four games of 2014. He needs to trust his instincts, improve his mechanics and work diligently with the coaching staff to find the proper balance between being reckless and aggressive.
He'll be disappointed right now, but his story isn't written yet. Now it just has an added chapter of adversity in the form of Kyle Orton.
- Despite them being right in the game, the Bills inexplicably went away from their bread and butter against a team that had struggled to stop the run through the first three weeks. Buffalo ended up passing the ball 44 times and using only 22 designed run plays, which limited what was thought to be the central piece to their offensive attack. C.J. Spiller (31, 1, 2.7), despite getting less time on the field, led the way with 15 rushing attempts. He had a standard C.J. Spiller day, getting yards with his athleticism that he probably shouldn't have, and then missing out on yards on other plays because he tried to bounce it outside. Fred Jackson (39, 2, 2.7), who is the highest rated offensive player through the first four weeks, had only seven carries against Houston. The 14-yard run in the second quarter when he sidestepped J.J. Watt in the backfield, and then followed it up by juking Brian Cushing out of his socks, was a thing of beauty. He turned a 2-yard loss into one of the biggest gains on the ground of the day. Fullback Frank Summers (6, 0, 2.3) had his lowest snap count of the season against Houston.
- When the quarterback is struggling as much as EJ Manuel was against the Texans, there isn't much a wide receiver can do but to catch the passes that are able to be caught. The Bills did not do a good job of that necessary component to the job early in the game. Sammy Watkins (70, -1, 2.3) had three separate drops and Mike Williams (43, 0, 2.7) had two, which could have increased Manuel's completion percentage to his boundary targets. Instead, the quarterback had a 33.3-percent completion percentage to receivers for the second straight week, despite throwing two touchdown passes during the outing. The big play was the 80-yard touchdown pass to Williams in which the receiver just ran right past his defender in one-on-one coverage. Robert Woods (69, 0, 2.3) had only three catches on 12 targets. His biggest contribution came after the plays were over, when he showed his frustration with poor ball placement on more than one occasion. Chris Hogan (11, 0, 2.3) received his first snaps on offense of the season but did not make a catch, nor was he targeted.
- The devaluation of the tight end in Buffalo's offense continued in Houston. Starter Scott Chandler (54, -1, 2.3) had only two catches for 15 yards and was targeted just five times. Lee Smith (16, 0, 2.3) and Chris Gragg (10, 0, 2.3) were not targeted by Manuel once in the game, either. Over the first four weeks, the Bills have targeted their tight ends only 15 times and completed 10 for 130 yards. That works out to 3.75 targets per game, 2.5 catches per game and 32.5 yards per game. Chandler makes himself available when a play breaks down, much like he did on the third down spinout play by Manuel. Otherwise, the day was fairly nondescript for the grouping.
- If you thought it couldn't get much worse for the offensive line and their performance from Week Three, think again. One of the best defenders in the NFL, J.J. Watt, took time out to introduce himself to each starting offensive lineman that the Bills had to offer… and not in a nice way. Against San Diego, the offensive line had a collective plus-minus of minus-14. This week? Try minus-18 on for size. Left tackle Cordy Glenn (70, -1, 2.7) and center Eric Wood (70, -1, 2.7) carried the majority of balance on the day. Glenn was fairly consistent throughout, putting the poor performance against the Chargers behind him. Wood struggled early on but battled back with a strong second half to salvage the day. The issues on the offensive line for the past two weeks, though, have been with three positions in particular. Right tackle Seantrel Henderson (70, -4, 2.0), right guard Erik Pears (70, -6, 1.7) and left guard Cyril Richardson (70, -6, 1.7) all couldn't seem to get a hold of their days and were graded accordingly. Henderson had six different plays that he was beat by his man in a one-on-one setting, Pears had seven and Richardson, like Henderson, also had six. They occurred in both pass blocking and run blocking, but among the 19 beats recorded throughout the game between those three, Watt accounted for 11 of them. That unit needs to be much improved, but they went up against a truly dominant defender that was having the best game of his career. Chris Hairston (1, 0, 2.3) was once again the "declared eligible" lineman when the Bills were going with a heavy set.
DEFENSE (68 total plays)
- Even though Mario Williams (52, 5, 3.3) is on pace for his lowest sack total as a member of the Bills, he might be having his best season as a complete defensive end since he joined the team. He's reading and reacting to plays, setting the edge against the run well and helping to make stops in the backfield. Williams even made a play in coverage, disguising his assignment to shadow Arian Foster, just to bait the Texans into what they thought would be easy yardage in the flat on third down. Instead, Williams stuck right with Foster and brought him down shy of the first down marker. He had a sack against Houston in the third quarter, but it was negated due to a penalty call on Leodis McKelvin. Jerry Hughes (35, 2, 3.0) was as good as he has been through the first four weeks, specifically with getting pressure on the Ryan Fitzpatrick. Over the past few games Hughes has been losing snaps to Jarius Wynn (30, 2, 2.7), but he still shows as a capable pass rusher most weeks. Wynn is mostly the type to hold the line and help set the table for teammates to bring the ball carrier down, but he did it on his own a couple of times against the Texans. His best play was when he knifed through the line of scrimmage to help bring down Alfred Blue for a four-yard loss in the fourth quarter. Manny Lawson (19, 1, 2.7) made a couple of nice plays from the backside of rushing attempts, but he won't live down being blocked by Fitzpatrick on Houston's wide receiver reverse. Lawson failed to contain the edge on that play and it led to substantial gain in the fourth quarter.
- It's very simple when Marcell Dareus (55, 4, 3.3) gets a one-on-one matchup: he's usually going to win. Most times it's a 'pick your poison' scenario with him and Kyle Williams (27, 2, 3.0) for who will draw the double team, but Dareus has been getting the brunt of it over the first four weeks. Even though he gets a hearty amount of attention, he still manages to win at the point of attack a handful of times each game. He made Houston left guard Ben Jones look silly a couple of times, and he wasn't the only mark. Williams had to leave the game early with a knee injury, but he helped force what could have been the game-winning play for Buffalo. He tipped Fitzpatrick's first pass attempt of the second half straight into the air and linebacker Nigel Bradham intercepted it, which put the Bills deep in Houston territory. As we know now, it didn't work out, but it doesn't take away from the positive play from Williams. The defensive tackle group really sets the tone against the run and clears out space for their linebackers, as long as they don't finish the play on their own first. Stefan Charles (23, 3, 3.3) looked great against the run, helping to set up a gain of zero yards, a loss of two yards and a loss of four yards in just 23 plays on the field. Corbin Bryant (31, 0, 2.3) flashed when he blew up an Alfred Blue run for no yards in the second quarter, but it never seemed like Bryant was in full control. He still gets pushed off the line of scrimmage too easily.
- The linebacker room was replenished with one extra body on Sunday, but the veteran presence of Keith Rivers (58, -4, 2.0) wasn't exactly the calming influence the team was hoping for in pass coverage. The Texans were able to capitalize on Rivers in coverage three separate times. He was slow to react to DeAndre Hopkins in zone coverage and a better throw from Fitzpatrick would have given Houston more than a five-yard gain. Later, Rivers bit on play action, let his assignment go free and fullback Jay Prosch was on the receiving end of a 24-yard gain. It almost happened again to Rivers in the fourth quarter. It was the same situation, but Fitzpatrick couldn't put the ball on Prosch that time around. Brandon Spikes (42, 2, 3.0) received his most time on the field since Week One and that's due in large part to Houston's utilization of two tight end sets. Spikes still found himself in coverage, but made most of his plays against the run. He helped limit a handful of runs to a minimal gain and then forced the fumble that gave the Bills the ball in the second quarter. Nigel Bradham (27, 3, 3.0) was on his way to having another fine performance as a starter for the team, but he injured his knee after bringing in an interception to start the third quarter. If he were to miss any time, the drop off from him to either Rivers or Ty Powell (4, 0, 2.3) would be noticeable. Bradham, and his explosive athleticism, was really starting to come into his own in all three phases of being a linebacker on the roster: against the run, in coverage and when he's sent on a blitz. Preston Brown (51, 3, 3.0) continued his 'two steps back, two steps forward' approach to the season. The rookie had a quietly effective afternoon against the run and forced a few running plays to stop before they even started. Even more encouraging, Brown offered up great coverage and recognition of running back Alfred Blue in the flat on one play in the second half. The rookie limited him to just a two-yard gain.
- As far as Week Four goes, the ballyhooed three-man rotation at cornerback was a thing of the past. Stephon Gilmore (68, -1, 2.7) took 100-percent of the snaps for the first time in 2014 and did his job quietly and well. His lone missteps were a 15-yard catch by Andre Johnson and a defensive holding penalty, which just so happened to occur on back-to-back plays. Leodis McKelvin (56, -2, 2.7) was picked on a bit more frequently by the Texans. McKelvin lost Johnson in coverage in the second quarter and surrendered a 25-yard reception. He also got whistled for two penalties in the game, with one of those being of a touchdown-saving variety. DeAndre Hopkins beat McKelvin cleanly on his breakdown about 12 yards down the field. He turned McKelvin around then took off down the sideline. All the cornerback could do was spin around and grab Hopkins to prevent him from an unimpeded scoring play. Later on though, McKelvin's interception was the talk of the secondary. Hopkins had position on him and he was still able to rise up and snatch the ball right out of the receiver's hands for a turnover. Corey Graham (8, -1, 1.7) saw minimal time on the field and gave up the only offensive touchdown of the game. Graham peaked into the backfield while running with Hopkins, and as he did that, he gave up the separation that allowed Fitzpatrick to find his receiver in the end zone for a score. Despite the bad beat, Graham still deserved more of an opportunity to play Sunday than what was given. Nickell Robey (27, -1, 2.3) has not enjoyed the same success as he had in 2013. He was only out there on a limited basis, mostly due to Houston's personnel.
- It wasn't a similar performance to the show Aaron Williams (68, 2, 2.7) put on over the two weeks before the Texans game, but the young safety still put some big hits on offensive players in the secondary. The Houston running game wasn't much to speak of, so they didn't need him to chip in with that part of the game. Da'Norris Searcy (28, 3, 3.0) is one of the most pleasant surprises of the season through four games. He has proven to be a valuable run defender and can get into the backfield quickly on a blitz attempt. He's a classic 'in the box' safety, and that's exactly how the Bills are using him. An ankle injury didn't allow him to start, which gave Duke Williams (39, -1, 2.3) the go-ahead to play. He was a liability against San Diego, but didn't make much of an impact on the game either way in Houston. One of his only downfalls was a missed tackle in the first quarter. Other than that, it appeared as though the communication issues from last week disappeared.
Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (Last week's rank)
The events that unfolded on the Monday after the Buffalo Bills’ second straight loss all lead to one clear and concise conclusion:
This is Doug Marrone’s show now. There’s no other way around it.
On Monday, the Bills made the decision to move on from the team’s first-round pick from 2013 after just 14 total starts. And the move, as stark as it was, wasn’t even the sole reason for heightened expectations from Marrone for the remainder of 2014.
It’s how the coach went about it.
Most times when a team makes a franchise altering decision like this one, the head coach will more or less say that it was a group decision. We learned that Marrone isn’t most head coaches, and he put himself on a limb without anyone to grab on to in the event he falls.
General manager Doug Whaley isn’t there with him, neither is Team President and CEO Russ Brandon and the same goes with the entire front office as well. Marrone stands alone after delivering a borderline defiant statement during his press conference to announce that Manuel had been benched for Kyle Orton.
He made it abundantly clear that this was his call, and in the way he termed it to the media, that he didn’t care what Whaley or anyone else thought of his decision.
“I didn’t ask for an agreement,” Marrone said Monday. “I just went in there and said ‘This is the direction that I’m going.’”
For a second-year head coach in his first stop, that’s quite the bold power play.
He later revealed that after explaining his thought process to Whaley, that both sides were in agreement. While that’s still important, it’s trumped by Marrone’s first words to the media about the genesis of the decision.
The success or failure of 2014 — which will be defined by the Bills making the playoffs this season and nothing else — has been laid at the feet of the head coach.
So the question is, why? Why did Marrone feel like it was necessary to pull the rip cord on Manuel after only 14 starts and put this season on himself?
The answer is simple:
Pressure. And it’s not just the normal pressure that every head coach in the NFL faces, either. This kind of pressure is a bit different.
Marrone knows he has to win this year and throw aside the normal, preconceived notions of what is expected of a head coach in only his second year. A new pair of owners are on the way in one week and he knows he only has one chance to make an impression on Terry and Kim Pegula.
Had the situations been different and things stayed the way they were, perhaps the Bills and Marrone aren’t in the spot that they’re in. Perhaps they could have gone with Manuel through thick and thin in 2014 and established a firm answer on their former first-round pick.
As we all know, that’s just not how it has played out. And what we witnessed today was an over correction by Marrone.
The head coach has essentially made a declaration that yells, ‘the future be damned!’ He is all in on 2014 because he might not have a 2015 to rely on. For him it’s all about self-preservation, which many can identify with in situations where a new boss is brought in.
Is sacrificing what could be a clear and definitive answer on their first-round quarterback for a journeyman backup with some success in the league going to be worth it?
Marrone, and only Marrone, better hope so. Otherwise, one of the first edicts of the Pegulas could be for those in charge to find a new head coach for 2015.
The day Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel never wanted to face is here. Just 523 days after the Bills used their first round selection to take the Florida State quarterback, the very head coach that drafted him stepped up to the podium and announced that Manuel had been benched for poor play.
The reasons for the decision, along with the explanations of that very line of thinking, will be discussed thoroughly for the remainder of the 2014 NFL season. However, what does this mean for Manuel as it stands?
Head coach Doug Marrone laid it all out: the former Bills starting quarterback has one of two choices.
“Now, he has a tough road ahead of him. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be reported, things are going to come at him and he has to fight through this thing,” Marrone said. “If he fights through it, he’ll be fine. If he doesn’t then he’s not. That’s not any different than a lot of players that this happens to, it just becomes more magnified when it’s the quarterback position.”
In the short-term, the decision handed down from the head coach was something Manuel never wanted to hear in his time in the NFL. If he looks at it from a longterm perspective, one could argue that this could be the best thing for Manuel’s career.
First, he’ll need to endure the scrutiny of being labeled as a failed first-round pick so early into his career. If he can, as Marrone alluded, he has a chance to take a step back out of the public eye and work on all the things during the season that he wouldn’t have been able to as the starter.
Manuel is far from a finished product, as the news of the day amply suggests. So, as Marrone said, it’s now the quarterback’s job to battle through the rest of it and focus on becoming the player they hoped he could when they initially drafted him.
“Well I think there are things that are going on right now that we discussed today, that it gives him a chance to just step back for a moment, look at things that, you know, we can work on and correct,” the head coach remarked. “And again, he'll have to have some thick skin through this. And you've got to fight, and that's usually what happens in life to get what you want, you're going to have to fight for it. I think that he'll be able to grow, I think he'll be able to handle it well from my conversation with him. And he'll be able to continue to grow as a quarterback.”
The move that many were calling for has happened in Orchard Park. Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced Monday afternoon that he has decided to bench second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, and the team will start veteran Kyle Orton on Sunday in Detroit.
Marrone stepped up to the podium on Monday and delivered the news that dramatically changed the course of Manuel's career.
"Obviously as a head coach, you've got to evaluate everything. At the end of the day, you've got to make the right decisions. Obviously with your mind and you're able to see things. Obviously with your heart, you know, things like that. The one thing is, when you go to bed at night, you have to make sure that you're making the best decisions to help our football team win," the coach started. "And in saying that, we're going to make a change at quarterback. Kyle Orton will go in there."
Orton, 31, will make his first start for the Bills after he signed with the team on August 30. With the team's Week Five contest in Detroit, it will also be his 71st career start after previous stints with Chicago, Denver, Kansas City and Dallas.
With the decision to put Orton in the starting lineup, it comes as a high profile manuever for Marrone to bench the team's former first round pick of a quarterback. Manuel is only the third player of that position selected in the first round by the franchise, but the head coach felt it was the correct approach to take.
"It's not all EJ's fault, but we need to get better production, obviously, out of that position. We have to make adjustments. We've got to make some changes, because we can't keep going in the direction that we're going," Marrone remarked. "The one thing I've said before, and you guys have heard me, is you need to get better every week. And if we're not, the onus goes on me as the leader to make changes that can help our team win."
There was one point that the head coach made abundantly clear on Monday: the decision was his and his alone. He made the ultimate call and then informed general manager Doug Whaley and the rest of the coaching staff of his intentions.
With how Marrone spoke on Monday, the choice to bench Manuel for Orton will be one of his most defining moments as the head coach of the Bills.
"I didn’t ask for an agreement. I just went in there and said ‘This is the direction that I’m going,'" Marrone said of his conversations with Whaley and his staff. "I went to Doug, I said look, this gives us the best opportunity to win. We talked about it. We looked at some things, and we were in full agreement on it."
The move comes with one lingering principle in mind for Marrone in the Bills: to get to the playoffs in 2014. Manuel's play over the past two weeks, specifically in his inaccuracy to his wide receivers, left the head coach with no other options.
Orton takes over for the former first-round pick, and while it's not a permanent move, it's the one that left Marrone with what he felt was his best option. Even at 2-2, the head coach believes that his team is capable of doing something that they haven't in quite some time. He feels the Bills can get to the postseason with Kyle Orton as their starting quarterback.
"Absolutely. I believe that we have a playoff caliber team," he said. "I think that we have to play better than we did the last two weeks, though."
The first test for the Orton-led Bills will be Sunday on the road against the Lions.
The Buffalo Bills couldn't find a way to hang on to the lead against the Houston Texans and lost for the second straight week. The Bills are now 2-2 on the season after they lost to former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.
Who was on the field the most? Here are some notes from the recently released playtime percentages:
- Cornerback Corey Graham, who had been the best cornerback on the team's roster through the first three weeks, received only 12-percent of snaps against the Houston Texans. The three-man rotation that head coach Doug Marrone had been referring to was not evident on Sunday.
- On Friday, Marrone said that the team was toying with the idea of giving both rookie Cyril Richardson and backup center Kraig Urbik time at left guard against Houston. The prevailing thought all week was that Richardson would get the start, and that was ultimately what happened. Richardson took all 70 snaps at left guard, whereas Urbik didn't receive one.
- Brandon Spikes received a combined 33 snaps over the last two games, but against Houston, the linebacker was back to his old usage. Spikes played 42 total snaps on Sunday and was one of the key pieces of the swarming run defense. The Texans played a lot of two tight end sets which likely contributed to the high snap count, as did the injury to Nigel Bradham in the third quarter.
The playtime percentages in full:
QB EJ Manuel - 70 (100%)
LT Cordy Glenn - 70 (100%)
LG Cyril Richardson - 70 (100%)
C Eric Wood - 70 (100%)
RG Erik Pears - 70 (100%)
RT Seantrel Henderson - 70 (100%)
WR Sammy Watkins - 70 (100%)
WR Robert Woods - 69 (99%)
TE Scott Chandler - 54 (77%)
WR Mike Williams - 43 (61%)
HB Fred Jackson - 39 (56%)
HB C.J. Spiller - 31 (44%)
TE Lee Smith - 16 (23%)
WR Chris Hogan - 11 (16%)
TE Chris Gragg - 10 (14%)
FB Frank Summers - 6 (9%)
OL Chris Hairston - 1 (1%)
S Aaron Williams - 68 (100%)
CB Stephon Gilmore - 68 (100%)
LB Keith Rivers - 58 (85%)
CB Leodis McKelvin - 56 (82%)
DT Marcell Dareus - 55 (81%)
DE Mario Williams - 52 (76%)
LB Preston Brown - 51 (75%)
LB Brandon Spikes - 42 (62%)
S Duke Williams - 39 (57%)
DE Jerry Hughes - 35 (51%)
DT Corbin Bryant - 31 (46%)
DE Jarius Wynn - 30 (44%)
S Da'Norris Searcy - 28 (41%)
CB Nickell Robey - 27 (40%)
DT Kyle Williams - 27 (40%)
LB Nigel Bradham - 27 (40%)
DT Stefan Charles - 23 (34%)
DE Manny Lawson - 19 (28%)
CB Corey Graham - 8 (12%)
LB Ty Powell - 4 (6%)
In a cruel twist of fate at the beginning of the second half, the Buffalo Bills saw their 3-1 start evaporate as quickly as it took the 289-pound J.J. Watt to run the ball 80 yards for a touchdown. With so many opportunities to put the Houston Texans away, the Bills have no one to blame but themselves for poor execution on Sunday.
The Bills lost to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Texans 23-17, and at the same time, painted an even bigger bullseye on their young quarterback — the same one that drew a multitude of criticism after his performance in Week Three. Where did it go wrong?
Some observations from the game:
Manuel prevents the Bills from stepping forward
- Before the dissection of EJ Manuel’s game begins, one simple thing must be observed: the outcome of the contest was not entirely his fault. He will take the brunt of the criticism — most of which will be warranted — but the Bills didn’t give him help in certain areas on Sunday. With that disclaimer out of the way, there is another simple truth from the team’s loss to Houston: the Bills should have won that game, and the poorly timed and inaccurate passes from Manuel’s arm played a big role in preventing the team from starting the season 3-1. There were a pair of key plays made on third down by the quarterback, and of course, the 80-yard touchdown to Mike Williams was as big a play as any. The Bills also didn’t do him any favors with some drops along the way. However, the numbers over Manuel’s last two games — specifically to his receivers — are horrid. Over the Bills’ past two losses, Manuel completed only 16-of-48 attempts (9-of-27 against Houston) to receivers for 180 yards. That’s a completion percentage of 33.3-percent, and a yards per attempt average of 3.75 — which includes the 80-yard touchdown pass from Sunday. There were many opportunities that were squandered by Manuel with errant throws and poor ball placement being the main reason for the overall inefficiency of the offense. With the lead, the Bills couldn’t capitalize on chances to extend it and blow out a team that should have been on the losing end. To begin the second half, the Bills had only 19 yards to go for another touchdown after an interception by Nigel Bradham. If they converted, they would have gone up 17-7 and took a major step forward in securing their third victory of the season. The result? J.J. Watt picks off a predetermined throw to the flat and returns it 80 yards for a touchdown. The Texans took the lead, snatched away the Bills’ confidence and never looked back. Manuel’s struggles had many among the fan base clamoring for his removal from the game. Head coach Doug Marrone said he never considered benching Manuel for Kyle Orton, but as the anxiety and restlessness among the fans grow, the message will only get louder. Marrone and the Bills are at a very critical stage of the season. They still have a .500 record and playoff hopes are very much alive. How much longer will they be if Manuel continues to play this way, and more importantly for Marrone, will he make it to 2015 if they don’t get to the postseason? If that thought grows within the head coach, the fans might not be the only ones with restlessness.
Watt dominates the entire offensive line
- Against San Diego, the Buffalo Bills were unable to establish the line of scrimmage on offense and Manuel wasn’t able to get comfortable in the pocket. It happened once again against Houston, but it was all because of one man: J.J. Watt. He is one of the most dominant defenders in all the NFL, and regardless of where he lined up against the Bills, he made his presence felt. Watt had nine separate quarterback hits, forced the pocket to move into his teammates and even brought in an interception, and, of course, returned it for a touchdown. Name a starting offensive lineman for the Bills, and he was beat by Watt at some point in the game. If it weren’t for him, perhaps Manuel would have had a bit of a better time throwing the ball. Because of Watt, Manuel couldn’t step into his throws and the quarterback’s accuracy dipped significantly. The Bills, simply put, had no answer for the defensive end.
- Manuel wasn’t helped by his receivers early in the game. On catchable passes, both Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams dropped passes that were in their mitts, only to further the frustration of the Bills offense. There were even some instances, just like against San Diego, that the Bills did not turn their head in time to see the pass headed toward them. As that frustration grew, as did some demonstrative displays after plays that went awry. Robert Woods was spotted growing frustrated with the lack of success on the offense, as was the rookie Watkins. Just like Manuel, the entire offense needed to be much better than they were, including the high profile wide receiver group.
Sterling run defense
- Even though the offense couldn’t help but get in their own way, the run defense showed once again why they are one of the best in the league. It’s a stark difference from what was witnessed in 2013, but the Bills front seven proved over the first four weeks that opposing offenses won’t be able to run all over them like they did in the past. Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, Nigel Bradham,
Brandon Spikes and Preston Brown have all contributed to a stout run defense that allowed Houston’s running backs only 23 yards on 18 carries. It doesn’t get much more dominant than 1.3 yards per carry. They have shown over the first quarter of the season that their talent and potential has been realized, and when fully healthy, will continue to be a tough out for any team they’re up against.
Graham loses his shine
- To begin the game, the Bills went with the peculiar decision to start Leodis McKelvin over Corey Graham. In three weeks, Graham had multiple pass breakups and limited what opposing receivers did when he was in one-on-one coverage. He was their best cover corner to begin the season. McKelvin even struggled out of the gate and allowed some big pass plays against the Texans that set them up in Buffalo territory. McKelvin left the game after his acrobatic interception that ended with him ripping the ball from DeAndre Hopkins’ hands in midair. Graham came in and did something that he hadn’t done before: he got beat deep, and it went for a touchdown. With that one play, Graham didn’t erase the first three games of great performances, but it certainly quelled the critics of the three-man rotation at cornerback. It still isn’t an ideal situation for three cornerbacks to be shuffled in whenever the coaching staff deems a ‘turn’ to be necessary. Instead, with what they believe to be three capable starting cornerbacks, they should go with the hot hand and use the two top performers at the position. If one starts to struggle, then they have the flexibility to replace that player. Cornerback is one of those positions, though, that players prefer to have a lot of time and be in the flow of the game. Who should start next week? That’s for the coaches to decide after watching the tape but Stephon Gilmore, who had the most consistent and lowest yielding day of the three, should be one of them.
Injury to insult of loss
- The Bills were simply outstanding against the run, but the team lost two separate starters to injury that directly impact the run front. Linebacker Nigel Bradham and defensive tackle Kyle Williams each suffered a knee injury that made it so neither one could continue. The severity of both injuries are unknown to this point, but Bradham was carted off the field. The linebacker really came into his own over the past few months, and if he has to miss any extended time, he will be sorely missed for his athleticism against both the run and the pass. Williams has been the team’s best player regardless of position. An extended absence is something the team can ill-afford.
Bills’ MVP: DT Marcell Dareus
- He ate up blockers, fired through the line of scrimmage and was a thorn in the side of the Texans all day long. He was one of the biggest reasons for the Texans’ running backs gaining only 23 yards on 18 carries.
Bills’ LVP: QB EJ Manuel
- Inaccuracy, predetermined throws and the inability to make a big play when the team needed it kept the Bills from getting into the win column for their third victory of 2014.
Up Next: Sunday, October 5 at Detroit.
- Up against an inferior opponent, the Bills had every opportunity to come away with a victory. If you count the J.J. Watt interception for a touchdown (which came on the third play of that drive), Buffalo had five separate three-and-out drives in the second half. They had multiple chances to put points on the board to either build on their lead or take the lead back, but EJ Manuel and the offense weren’t up to the task. If the Bills get close to a playoff berth, they’ll look back and see the Houston game as the one that got away. Will anything change from Week Four to Week Five? Will Marrone feel the heat a bit more and be more apt to make a very high profile change? His answers over the past week indicate that it might not be in the cards. As the anxiety grows in an upcoming critical part of the season, perhaps more consideration to the alternative will be given. Regardless, it’s going to make for a very interesting week at One Bills Drive.
By the end of the weekend, the Buffalo Bills could send some shockwaves through the rest of the National Football League by beginning their season with a 3-1 record. Or, the Bills could lose the game to their former failed quarterback, drop their second straight contest and potentially cause panic throughout the fan base because of who they lost to.
When the Bills play the Houston Texans Sunday, a great deal is on the line in what has been widely thought of as a winnable matchup for Buffalo. How do the Bills and Texans compare?
Some keys to the game to keep an eye on:
1) The plan to stop Watt
- The best player on the Texans roster — and one of the best in the entire National Football League —will be up against a Bills offensive line that had trouble getting out of their own way last weekend. Defensive end J.J. Watt is one of the most dominant players in the league and Houston does a superb job at lining him up at different spots throughout the game. Wherever he is, expect at least a double team on each play that requires a bit of time to set up, whether it’s for a pass or a run. The focus might be placed on rookie Cyril Richardson, who is likely to make his first career start at left guard. The Texans may choose to have Watt line up over him, but they also might try to attack the right side of the offensive line (Erik Pears and Seantrel Henderson) which has left a lot to be desired through the first three weeks. Nose tackle Jerrell Powe and defensive end Jared Crick, the other two starting defensive linemen for Houston, do not invoke a lot of fear from opponents. Due to that, the Bills will do whatever they can to keep Watt away from making an impact on the game. As many before the Bills have found, that task is easier written than accomplished.
2) Fearful of Fitz?
- To this point in the season, the Houston Texans have seen the many sides of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that Bills fans witnessed for years. He’ll get into some rhythm during the season and the offense can operate at a somewhat high level, but then Fitzpatrick has the tendency to try and do too much if his team is up against adversity. The quarterback had a season-high three interceptions in Week Three against the New York Giants, but there was a big reason for it. Houston was without starting running back Arian Foster and that put a lot more pressure on Fitzpatrick and the passing game. If Foster (questionable, hamstring) can’t play again, the Bills will have their share of opportunities to force turnovers like the Giants did last week. If Foster does play, it won’t tip the Texans’ hand as much because the running back is an accomplished pass protector. There’s also the underlying story that if Ftizpatrick is able to both outperform and defeat an EJ Manuel-led Bills team, the fan base could be sent into panic mode.
3) Texans subpar OL
- To help the Bills and their fans away from the temptation to succumb to that mode so early into the season, the Bills defensive line could have another big day. It’s a combination of their talent, and because the Houston Texans offensive line is very beatable from left to right. The three players that have shown to be taken advantage of this season are left guard Ben Jones, right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Derek Newton. The trio struggled in both pass blocking and in establishing enough of a push for the running game. The strength of the Bills is along their defensive line, and with so many holes along the offensive line for Houston, the superb seasons of Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams may very well continue. The heat will likely be on Fitzpatrick from three of his former teammates.
4) Jackson, Spiller are vital
- With the exception of J.J. Watt, the Houston front seven is not a very good unit. They have a big name player in Brian Cushing, but he has not looked like the Cushing of old -- the one that was dominant when he first stepped into the league. The inside linebacker has gotten covered up quite easily in the run game and isn’t crashing through the run lanes as much as he did before his most recent injury. Justin Tuggle, the son of former Pro Bowl linebacker Jesse, is the other inside linebacker that starts by name. The Texans are usually in nickel which drops safety D.J. Swearinger down to play in the box as a linebacker, and Houston then sends in Danieal Manning to take Swearinger’s vacated safety spot. Either way, the whole combination of six players (other than Watt) could lead to a big day both inside and outside the tackles. Spiller could see more open running room than he has in any of the three weeks, but Jackson can be the one to march right over Crick and Powe. This game serves as a chance for the offensive line, despite a rookie starting Sunday, to get back on track.
5) Active corners
- The Bills could be in line to run the ball quite a bit against Houston, and they’re probably going to be less encouraged to throw the ball too. Houston has a solid pair of cornerbacks in Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, which could lead to less targets for Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. On three wide receiver formations, Houston shifts Jackson to cover the slot player and then brings in one of A.J. Bouye, Darryl Morris or Andre Hal to play as a boundary corner. That, and the Texans’ porous run defense will lead to many expectations that the Bills would like to run the ball as much as possible. That is just more evidence that Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller could be the large majority of the offense on Sunday.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: G Chris Williams (back), WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion), LB Randell Johnson (knee), WR Marcus Easley (knee) PROBABLE: CB Ron Brooks (illness), QB EJ Manuel (abdomen), HB C.J. Spiller (chest), WR Sammy Watkins (ribs), WR Robert Woods (ankle), LB Keith Rivers (groin), S Da’Norris Searcy (ankle)
Houston OUT: LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee), S Shilioh Keo (calf), S Eddie Pleasant (ankle) QUESTIONABLE: CB A.J. Bouye (groin), P Shane Lechler (left hip), HB Arian Foster (hamstring) PROBABLE: DE Jared Crick (neck), CB Kareem Jackson (thigh), DE Tim Jamison (groin), WR Andre Johnson (ankle), G Ben Jones (knee), CB Johnathan Joseph (foot, neck, knee), S D.J. Swearinger (elbow, hip)
Prediction: Bills over Texans
- With so many advantages at key spots, the Bills have the talent to pull out another victory on the road. The Texans are a well-coached team with very good players at defensive end, running back, wide receiver and cornerback, but they lack an overwhelming amount of talent throughout their roster. It gets to the point where this game should be a victory for Buffalo, regardless of the struggles the offense had in Week Three against San Diego. The Bills have the superior team and now they need to be able to prove it. The sting of last week’s loss resides with the team, which would make it fair to expect a much more mentally strong approach. If they don’t, they could be staring at a ‘should have had that one’ style of game once the season wraps up and people look back on what could have been.
The Buffalo Bills will attempt to close out the first quarter of the 2014 NFL season with a winning record, but they’ll likely need to do so without a starting offensive lineman and a deep threat. After both left guard Chris Williams and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin did not participate in Friday’s practice, both players were listed as doubtful for the team’s upcoming contest with the Houston Texans.
Williams, who has dealt with a back injury since August, missed all three days of practice during the week due to the ailment. Head coach Doug Marrone said the team has been trying to rest the left guard for each of the last three days while holding on to hope that he could be able to play. If he can’t, however, rookie Cyril Richardson is the likeliest candidate to start in his place.
Marrone also said the team is considering backup center Kraig Urbik, and may even split time between both him and Richardson depending on how the game unfolds.
Goodwin suffered a concussion at practice on Wednesday, was placed into the league’s mandatory protocol on Thursday and did not practice each of the final two days. The wide receiver complained that he felt sick during Wednesday’s practice, and then the team’s medical staff checked him for a concussion.
With the ‘doubtful’ designation the duo has, at most, a 25-percent chance to play in the upcoming contest.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs), quarterback EJ Manuel (abdominal), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle), safety Da’Norris Searcy (ankle), linebacker Keith Rivers (groin), running back C.J. Spiller (chest) and cornerback Ron Brooks (illness) have all been declared as probable against the Texans. Rivers will likely make his return to the starting lineup after a two-game stint on the inactive list due to his ailment.
The only two players to be declared out were wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) and linebacker Randell Johnson (knee). The Bills will travel to Houston on Saturday for their Sunday showdown with the Texans at NRG Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 pm.