When the Buffalo Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone announced last week that he was inserting backup Kyle Orton for the struggling EJ Manuel, many thought that Orton would improve the Bills passing offense, namely in getting the ball down the field. Orton did well in that regard, as three of his 30 completions were targeted 20-yards, or more, down the field. However, when you look at his numbers closely, it appeared to be a result of a conservative game plan that featured the run on early downs and shorter passing plays that eventually lead to the down-field success.
For the game Orton went 30 for 49 with a mystifying 308 yards. He also threw for two touchdowns, one for the Bills and a pick six for the Detroit Lions.
When looking at Orton’s stats, one may say that he was clearly the better quarterback option for the Bills, considering EJ Manuel had never thrown for 300 yards in a game. But early on, starting Orton appeared to be a poor choice as the first eight drives resulted in six punts, a field goal and the noted interception returned for a touchdown. The Bills gained only 123 yards of offense in the first half with 18 rushing and 105 passing.
What changed was Orton’s ability to take advantage of Detroit’s eagerness to run toward the line of scrimmage, which was set up by the Bills early commitment to the run in early downs. That dedication to Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller made the Lions respect the two as a threat and opened up passing windows later in the game when it mattered.
Despite averaging those 1.8 yards-per-carry in the first half, those ten attempts kept the offense balanced, and the dangerous receiving of Fred Jackson out of the back field (45 yards receiving) made the tough Lions defense account for every player on the Bills offense.
By running the ball early in the downs, eight rushes on either first or second down in the first half; it also lulled the Lions into sleep when the fourth quarter came around as most defenders creep closer to the line of scrimmage expecting either short passes (35 for the game) or runs.
Outside of Marquise Goodwin’s 42 yard catch, all of the Bills plays that went 10 yards or more occurred on first or second downs in the final two quarters.
It was a slow developing, and sometimes sloppy, game plan by Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, but it paid off in the end.
The Bills defense has made life difficult for opposing offenses, and the Orton led Bills were able to reward their outstanding performance with a victory; it just took all 59 minutes and 51 seconds for them to get there.