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AFC East: Buffalo Bills Focus

AFC East: Buffalo Bills Focus
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Let this sink in: the Bills have a better road record than home record five weeks into the season. With another three point win over a tough NFC North opponent on Sunday, the Bills have managed to hang on to their share of the lead in the suddenly terrible AFC East. Looking back at this weekend’s victory, I am struck by a couple of key stats that Kyle Orton managed to put up in his first start for Buffalo. First, he passed for 308 yards, the first QB in a Bills uniform to do so since 2012. Second, he totaled more than forty passing attempts and didn’t lose the game, something that EJ Manuel has not been able to do. Third, he lead the team back from a two score deficit (granted, one that he created with his own terrible pick six) and eventually won the game, something else EJ Manuel has not been able to do.

Orton had a tale of two halves in Detroit. The first half he was clearly rusty, but it looked like some of the rust fell off at half time. He started hitting receivers in stride down field and getting big gains from yards after the catch, another thing EJ Manuel has struggled with. He made his share of bonehead plays, primarily the previously mentioned pick six and a couple of questionable throws that could have been interceptions had the Lions defense made a catch or two, but it was a solid game from a journeyman QB. It’s pretty clear that the Bills organization is in “win now” mode, with both Doug Marrone and Doug Whaley trying to keep their jobs after the new owners take over, but a side effect of this might be just what the doctor ordered for EJ Manuel.

If you look back at the 2013 season, the Bills probably never intended to throw EJ Manuel to the wolves in his rookie season. Kevin Kolb was the likely week 1 starter before the infamous rubber mat incident, with EJ backing him up and learning the game from the sidelines. EJ was always regarded as a raw prospect, so it would make sense that the plan wasn’t to start him, but circumstances conspired against him. Perhaps now he can learn from the sidelines while Orton is on the field and in a year or two, if his fragile confidence isn’t shattered, he might retake the field as a more experienced veteran. His physical tools are immense, so if he can get the mental and technical aspects of the game down, I can see him being a solid starter in the league.

Moving back to the game on Sunday, how about that Bills defense? The pass rush is coming on strong, the run defense is absurdly effective, and it looks like the secondary is (painfully) learning how to play under the new, ultra-restrictive penalty calling the NFL is enforcing this season. The offense is clearly holding the team back, but they did enough to win against a very good Detroit defense and I expect them to improve as the year goes on, particularly if Orton manages to not regress to the mean. Bear in mind, he had only one week of work with the ones in practice, so his timing with the receivers should only improve.

This coming Sunday should be a game for the ages. Buffalo hosting New England in a battle for first place in the division, a game that could have serious playoff implications (I know it’s only week 6, but this division looks like it could come down to tie breakers). New England looked like it’s long reign over the AFC East was coming to a close, until they curb stomped the Bengals in Foxboro. The Bills defense has been built to pressure and hit Tom Brady, but they do have one glaring weakness and that is their inability to cover the middle of the field against tight ends and the Patriots once again have a pair of them. If the Bills can stop the run and get early pressure on Brady, then they’ll stand a good chance of winning this game. If they allow the Patriots to run all over them like they did against the Bengals, then Brady will pick them apart.

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