Published February 05, 2015
(SportsNetwork.com) - A sense of urgency has precipitated change with the Buffalo Bills.
The move from second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel to veteran Kyle Orton is a development you can trace back to Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula's agreement to purchase the team from the Wilson family trust, a deal which is expected to be approved by the NFL owners at their fall meeting in New York City next week.
The conventional thinking in these types of situations is that new ownership likes to bring in its own people for high-level managerial positions and that's not lost on both Bills coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley, who both understand the only sure-fire way to keep their employment in western New York is to win and do it now.
That win-now mentality is only amplified by the fact that New England has seemingly come back to the pack in the AFC East, which has opened up the division for also-rans like Miami and the New York Jets, never mind Buffalo, which may have the most talent in the quartet.
In fact if Manuel, the team's first-round pick in 2013, was carrying his own water at the game's most important position there is little doubt that the 2-2 Bills would be alone atop the division standings right now.
Buffalo is just 27th in total offense with Manuel running the show despite some very solid skill-position players like Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller at running back, along with rookie star Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams and Robert Woods at receiver.
"It's not a one-man show," Spiller admitted. "(But) in this league, the quarterback is the focal point and the emphasis of wins and losses of teams."
Orton will change things dramatically for the Bills in that he is a completely different signal caller than Manuel with Buffalo 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 faster."
The big risk of sitting a young quarterback who has been playing is losing him mentally, something highlighted by Christian Ponder's deer-in-the- headlights playing style in Green Bay on Thursday night. Marrone ignored that hurdle while trying to pay lip service to Manuel's ego.
"It's not all EJ's fault, but we need to get better production out of that position," he said. "We've got to make some changes because we can't keep going in the direction that we're going."
Actually the Bills franchise could keep heading in the same direction but Marrone can't.
After all Manuel still has a far higher-ceiling than Orton, whose upside is probably managing things well enough to get the team to 9-7 in the hopes of winning a bad division.
"When this happened, obviously I was upset and frustrated," Manuel admitted. "But at the same time, be a man, be a pro. I kicked up my work ethic even more. Be more consistent with everything: how the ball is coming out of my hands, my enunciation in the huddle, all those types of things."
Marrone is not the only coach going through this. Rex Ryan, who has been starting the overmatched Geno Smith with the Jets, is in a very similar situation, the problem of trying to serve two masters with divergent goals, in this case doing what's right for the future of the organization while trying to win in the now.
The stark reality is that both Marrone and Ryan will likely be filing change- of-address forms if they don't make the playoffs yet each has been going with a struggling second-year signal caller showing little improvement from week to week with a better veteran option waiting in the wings.
It's a tough conundrum to put any coach in because nearly everyone understands neither Orton or Michael Vick with the Jets are long-term solutions. Those same observers, however, will readily admit that the veterans are the best options to win on Sundays in 2014.
Marrone finally chose self-preservation over selflessness this week.
Ryan, on the other hand, has remained altruistic to this point and stood next to what will ultimately be his albatross more steadily than Tammy Wynette.
Neither coach is right and neither is wrong but Marrone is more pragmatic.
"It's tough. You have to make these decisions with your mind with your heart, you know you put a lot of time into it," he said. "It's not an easy decision. But at the end of the day when you need more production that's what you have to do."