Let's be clear about the point of the discussion this week. New Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Kyle Orton is not the most dangerous player on the Bills and does not exactly strike fear into the hearts of his opponents. Just look at the picture above. The man is wearing a visor! He has the facial hair of a silent film villain! However, Orton is still worth a little extra consideration this week, as it is his first start of the season for the Bills. There are both pros and cons to Orton supplanting second-year quarterback EJ Manuel as the Bills' starting quarterback, and that will be our discussion this week.
Orton is a 10-year veteran who has played for five different teams in his career. The journeyman considered retirement this offseason and signed with the Bills just over a month ago. Orton has mainly been a backup throughout his career and has been a primary starter in only four of his 10 seasons in the league (two in Chicago and two in Denver). His last long-term tenure as a starter came in 2010, when he put up the best numbers of his career. However, the Denver Broncos did not put together enough wins and Orton was ultimately "Tebowed." For his career, Orton has thrown for 15,019 yards and 83 touchdowns, and he has a quarterback rating of 79.9. Basically, what you would expect from a traveling backup quarterback. The most unwelcome bit of Orton trivia is that he owns a 4-0 record against the Detroit Lions in his career.
So why should Lions fans be happy Orton is taking over in Buffalo this week? First, Orton is a known quantity. The Lions haven't faced Orton since 2008, but there is a ton of film on him over the course of his career. In his 10th year, the Lions' coaching staff and defense will be able to analyze every strength, weakness and tendency Orton has displayed in his career.
Second, for all the talk of the Bills going into "win-now" mode by putting Orton under center, there is no indication he is actually an improvement over Manuel. Orton's career completion percentage is only 0.1 better than Manuel's (58.6 compared to 58.5 percent), and their turnover and touchdown ratios are nearly identical (Manuel throws an interception on 2.7 percent of his throws and touchdowns on 3.7 percent, while Orton throws interceptions on 2.6 percent of his throws and touchdowns on 3.7 percent). When it comes down to production and taking care of the ball, Orton is basically an older and less mobile version of Manuel.
Finally, one of the key reasons cited for Manuel's replacement was his inability to look downfield and his propensity for checking down too soon. Again, Orton is not really an improvement in that department. Orton's career yards per attempt average is 6.6, compared with Manuel's 6.4. Manuel even has a higher percentage of "big" plays of over 20 yards -- 11.1 percent of attempts compared to 9.2 percent. Even in Orton's most successful statistical season as a starter, 2010, he averaged only 7.3 yards per attempt, which was good enough for 19th in the league among starters and 0.7 yards per attempt behind his replacement, Tim Tebow. Orton is probably more capable of placing deep throws than Manuel, but he is not a field-stretching quarterback.
Now for the bad. Why should the Lions wish the Bills' quarterback situation remained unchanged? The best argument is the perspective of the Bills' receivers themselves. The Bills' top two wideouts, rookie Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, openly spoke about the improvement Orton brings to the Bills offense. Specifically, they cited his leadership, communication and throwing delivery. They obviously see the Bills offense as more dangerous with Orton under center.
Second, Orton has the hard-won intangible skill of being a veteran. One of the frequent criticisms of Manuel is that he is skittish in the pocket and too frequently bails on plays -- by throwing the ball away or checking down -- instead of trying to give his receivers a chance. For his part, Orton may take a few more sacks by hanging in the pocket, but he will also be more comfortable seeing plays through to the end. That can also be an advantage for the Lions if they can consistently apply pressure and bait Orton into making dangerous throws that provide turnover opportunities.
Finally, the Bills will not ask too much of Orton. This is a run-first team that uses C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to pound the ball down the field. As a fantastic complement, the Bills also have one of the best defenses in the league. Therefore, the Bills are most effective playing with a lead and working the clock. While no one would accuse Orton of being a game manager, he is likely more effective in that role than Manuel given the differing comfort levels for the two signal callers. In addition, should the Bills fall behind early as they did against the Houston Texans last week, Orton is much more capable of putting the offense on his arm than Manuel is at this point in his career. The best case for the Lions is to put the Bills in exactly that situation. I would much prefer the Lions defense countering an Orton comeback than facing a 50-carry day by Jackson and Spiller.