A year ago, most Bills fans probably wouldn’t have thought much about Kyle Orton as a possible catalyst for grinding out greater consistency on the Bills offense. Last Halloween, we were barely into the ‘EJ era’, hoping that Manuel would be the answer in the endless search for a “franchise” quarterback (whatever that is).
A year later the jury is still out, Kyle Orton is in, and the team is in the midst of a perfectly timed mid-season bye week after winning two games in a row. EJ Manuel is being allowed the opportunity to grow and learn on the job. All is right in Bills-land at the moment.
Although the Bills offense continues to perform below a threshold that would make them a strong candidate for playoff contention, they have stemmed the hemorrhaging by inserting Kyle Orton into the starting lineup at the quarterback position. Interestingly, the Jets chose the exact opposite strategy in terms of staying the course with Geno Smith after he had what can only be described as an epic meltdown last Sunday against the Bills vaunted defense, and was subsequently replaced by Michael Vick.
One key difference between the two teams’ quarterback situations is that the Jets don’t really have to change much of their offensive scheme because both Vick and Smith can run the read-option. Kyle Orton’s feet and legs remove any possibility of that being the case in the Bills situation.
This adaptation in offensive scheme is something to keep an eye on as we move to the back half of the season. The offensive line has entirely different issues blocking for a statue (albeit a very smart one), instead of the allegedly mobile quarterback EJ Manuel. This means the line must once again alter its methodology.
This sudden change is exactly what I’m referring to when describing Kyle Orton as a “disruptor” on the Bills offense. The word ‘disruption’ seems to have a negative connotation for some people, when it actually can just as often be a positive tendency or factor as well. Disruption is an underrated process with respect to building team chemistry.
Sometimes a big change in a leadership role can prove to be exactly what is necessary to flush out a long culture of losing. The change can seem to take forever, or fix itself quickly depending on the catalyst(s) involved.
This certainly seems to be the case when Orton was inserted as the starter four games ago. Sammy Watkins suddenly started lighting up and reveal his immense talent by scoring touchdowns and stretching the field. Bills players on both offense and defense talk with reporters about how Orton has changed the way they study film. Players are describing how they feel the presence of his authority in a way they did not when Manuel was starting.
Manuel is a young man who is eager to please others, and is not yet ready for prime time in terms of performance as a starter. He has a lot to learn about the game, and life in general. He seems eager to do so.
There’s no reason to think he won’t succeed as a starting QB at some point, but look no further than Geno Smith to see what happens when you keep playing a quarterback in the NFL who is not emotionally mature enough to handle the job in Gotham City, or anywhere for that matter.
Most people of a certain age understand what it feels like to experience situations when things just fall into place, as if they were meant to end up that way. Just like what sometimes happens when adding one ingredient significantly changes the flavor of a recipe, Orton has been that kind of disruptor for the Bills in terms of shaking the roots of malaise on the offense.
Needless to say, this ‘Orton Effect’ has raised more than one eyebrows so far. A really well done piece by Tim Graham about Kyle last week opened the lid a smidgen to give us a glimpse about what makes Orton tick. Kyle is clearly an erudite dude with the rigorous mind of a skeptic. He is complex, interesting, and obviously a highly intelligent man. Orton may look like ‘Uncle Rico’, but he thinks more like Plato.
This is where my strong belief in the “it” factor comes in to play with respect to how certain quarterbacks stand out from their peers. Kyle Orton was pigeon holed by the media because he bounced around from team to team, especially teams in transition. Sometimes circumstances take over and end up defining you professionally, unless you take the bull by the horns and create your own reality when the opportunity presents itself.
Kyle Orton did precisely that when he left Dallas on his own terms and signed with the Buffalo Bills. Manuel got some valuable game experience early in the season, and was given a gift in the form of a role model and mentor.
EJ is blessed to have Orton showing him the way. Poor Geno, Michael Vick doesn’t strike me too much as a mentoring kind of guy. Vick appeared to be happier sitting on the bench collecting a paycheck than taking hits on the field at this point in his career when he stepped in for Geno last Sunday.
Bills fans should avoid making the assumption that the same thing is going to happen to Kyle Orton as did with Ryan Fitzpatrick after a run of early season success led to a hasty and erroneous $60 million dollar contract. Orton is surrounded by a higher level of productivity from skilled players than Fitzpatrick was when he had limited success his last year in Buffalo.
The only thing these two QBs share in common is that both are highly intelligent journeymen who never quite clicked in any one place, despite relatively productive careers. In fact, one of Fitzpatrick’s defining characteristics is that he is actually much more like EJ Manuel in his mannerisms regarding conflict resolution than Kyle Orton. Both Fitz and EJ tend to avoid stirring up conflict rather than creating and resolving it. Orton thrives on it as it is a salient part of his DNA.
This is not to suggest that one personality type is ‘better’ than the other. It depends on the other ‘variables’ in the locker room. Kyle Orton is in a near perfect situation in terms of taking command of an NFL offense and realizing his own potential. If I were to describe his ideal outcome from my vantage point, I would offer up the suggestion that Orton could be a Peyton-LITE type of guy.
Make no mistake, NO ONE is Peyton Manning. Orton doesn’t have the innate OCD required to be the closest thing to a human computer that you could find at this time. However, what Orton does possess in similar quality is the ability to command respect from his teammates.
If you missed the butt chewing he delivered to Sammy Watkins after his early celebration of the touchdown that never happened, you missed a jewel of an example of Orton taking charge of ‘his’ players. He is a strong leader whose voice alone commands respect in the huddle. He shouts out “Blue-80” as his own version of Peyton’s “Omaha”.
Jerry Sullivan has been peppering the players and coaches with questions about why Kyle Orton isn’t being considered more seriously as a ‘franchise’ QB when he is a half-decade younger than Manning or Brady. It’s a very good question, but unfortunately he did not seem to elicit an authentic response. Just more mind numbing coach-speak.
Hopefully, the bye week will allow the players to open the windows and doors and let some sunshine and fresh air into their brains. Included in that process will be the chance for the first four weeks of a Kyle Orton led offense to sink in and marinate a bit. If the Bills offensive line can somehow get their act together and open up the running game, this team could be legitimately poised for playoff contention.
Just that notion alone should hearten ‘long-suffering’ Bills fans. Those who try to label Bills fans should know better as far as the ‘long suffering’ part goes. This fan base knows suffering like few others. In fact, we are arguably more rational in dealing with the emotions of losing than we are about winning.
As Bills fans, most of us are ill-equipped to deal with examples of disruptive success like what Kyle Orton brought in his first four games. Our eyes glaze over and our brains start flashing the last 14 QBs who played for the Bills. Many of us chastise ourselves for merely considering the possibility that good things could actually be happening.
It’s possible that Kyle Orton could end up being a far greater disruptor for success than even the most skeptical of Bills fans imagined. He could also just as easily fall flat on his face, and cement his legacy as a solid backup quarterback for all of eternity.
From a distance, it appears Kyle Orton has the opportunity of his professional career to grab his place in football history, if he can guide this group of misfits on offense to play to peak potential. Orton is making everyone around him accountable for improving their performance, and doing it in a no-nonsense style. The players seem to be responding with better performances.
Right now, Orton is a great example about what happens to productivity when there is positive disruptor that enters the equation. Consider this a challenge to Bills fans during this bye week to step back and enjoy the moment.
It’s been a long time since the Bills had this type of ‘positive disruption’ come along and immediately contribute to turning things around on offense. How enjoyable will it be when the rest of this story unfolds as we go through the last half of the season?