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Counterpoint: Orton Might Not Suck!

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As discussed at length earlier this week, We Want Marangi has pretty serious doubts about Kyle Orton.

The veteran of 10 NFL seasons and four teams who found him wanting did not do much to alleviate those doubts by acting like an entitled superstar at his first news conference since replacing E.J. Manuel as Buffalo’s starting quarterback.
Especially since this is a guy who was such a good teammate that Denver dumped him in mid-season after replacing him with Tim Tebow, rather than keep him around to provide the veteran leadership the Bills now expect. And who got his release from Dallas by convincing the Cowboys he did not really like playing football any more.

In the interest of fairness, however, we offer this counterpoint, courtesy of Grantland’s Robert Mays.
Using the latest new-fangled football statistics, Mays argues that, with Doug Marrone’s decision to swap in Orton for Manuel, the rest of the Buffalo Bills are good enough to not just reach the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, but to earn the franchise’s first division title since 1995 — Jim Kelly’s penultimate season as their quarterback.

Having to abandon a first-round quarterback 14 starts into his career would be a concession for most teams, but Marrone’s choice to hand the ball to Kyle Orton isn’t the Bills’ version of waving the white flag. It’s actually their way of bearing down.

Mays bases his case primarily on Buffalo’s defense, particularly its dominance against the run, while expecting at least some offensive improvement.

Manuel’s brand of bad was particularly maddening because of the group the Bills have put together around him. We were about a week away from an “Is Sammy Watkins open?” Tumblr site. Here’s a hint: Sammy Watkins is always open. Going back and watching the tape of Buffalo’s game against the Texans was brutal. Every time Watkins streaked across the middle of the field, the ball seemed to hit him in the knee, or ricochet off the fingertips of an outstretched hand.

All of which goes back to one of WWM’s reservations about the move. Lost in the animus directed at Manuel for his maddening inaccuracy has been the inability of his receivers — including Watkins — to hold on to numerous throws that were catchable.

It may be true that Watkins is always open. Through four games, though, he does notalways make the sort of catches you would expect from someone who cost your team two first-round draft picks.

An instinct for self-preservation is understandable, especially after seeing teammates get detonated by opposing defenders while leaping and stretching for Manuel’s errant throws. It would be a big help, though, if the guy whose spectacular training-camp catches made himthe greatest receiver in Vine history could replicate those grabs when it counts.

As Mays notes, the move to Orton puts pressure on Watkins and the rest of the Bills to live up to their analytic statistics and big-play potential. If they need an additional challenge, making their Orton-led debut in Detroit against the 3-1 Lions. Doing a better job containing Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh than they did at preventing J.J. Watt from roaming free in their backfield would be an excellent place to start.

Like his team, Marrone lost his easy excuse when he benched Manuel. Like his young quarterback, Marrone has shown occasional flashes of competence through his first season-and-a-quarter, but little to suggest that he deserves a third. Desperately turning to a quarterback who has been with the team for barely a month and had one week of practice is either a brilliant move, or a clear sign that general manager Doug Whaley made as big a mistake hiring Marrone as he did drafting Manuel.

Between Sunday’s game in Detroit and a visit by staggering New England seven days later, it won’t take long to find out which it is.