NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT


--The Buffalo Bills made a significant and much-needed upgrade to their quarterback position Saturday by signing 31-year-old Kyle Orton, the best available option on the free agent market.

The 10th-year veteran had been released by Dallas in July, and while there were reports that he was going to retire, he was actually weighing his options, and Buffalo is a good landing spot.

He immediately becomes the No. 2 quarterback behind EJ Manuel, a player some feel will never truly be an NFL starter. It is too early for the Bills to quit on Manuel, their first-round draft pick in 2013, but he has not been impressive to date.

It would not be a shock that if Manuel struggles early in the season, Orton gets the chance to start. With a new owner likely in place before the end of this year, this coaching staff and front office knows it needs to either make the playoffs, or stay in contention right to the end.

So it can't afford to be too patient with Manuel if he is not producing. Orton is 35-35 as an NFL starter with Chicago, Denver and Kansas City, and has completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 15,019 yards with 83 touchdowns and 59 interceptions.


--The Bills have spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about their backup quarterbacks the past couple weeks, and there still is plenty to gripe about now that the regular season is about to begin in Chicago.

Simply put, it would be a safe bet to say that Buffalo's backup quarterbacking duo - Jeff Tuel and Jordan Palmer at this point -- may be the weakest in the league, although possibly subject to change as a part of the NFL's final roster juggling.

But as the Bills try to put behind them a miserable preseason where they went 1-4 and were anemic on offense, they also have to be concerned with the play of their starting quarterback, EJ Manuel. If they're not, they should be.

Manuel and the first-string offense were on the field for 23 possessions in the preseason; they produced two touchdowns, and those came in the fourth game against Tampa Bay. That day, the first-string was blanked in the first half by the Bucs starters, and the offense managed just 82 yards which created a 24-0 deficit before teeing off on Tampa Bay's reserves to score a pair of third-quarter touchdowns. Only then did coach Doug Marrone sit his starters down for the remainder of the game.

In a perfect world, Manuel and his mates wouldn't have played at all in that 23-0 loss to Detroit, but Marrone felt they still needed work. So he played them for three series, and the results were strikingly similar. Going against mostly backups - Detroit played only a handful of first-string players - the Bills made a mere three first downs, and one of those came on a pass interference penalty. Manuel was 3 of 7 for 56 yards, and he was sacked twice.

There was nobody in half-full Ralph Wilson Stadium who could have possibly considered it a good job, but Manuel did. And that has been his modus operandi throughout the dismal preseason, constantly telling the media that he thinks things are fine.

"Pretty good," Manuel termed his performance. "I got a couple drops on third downs, but as far as going to the right place with the ball, I thought I did a pretty good job. Coming off the field talking to coach (Nathaniel) Hackett (the offensive coordinator and (quarterbacks) coach (Todd) Downing, they told me I did a good job, so I'm psyched for that."

Manuel has said repeatedly that he's been going to the "right place with the ball." That may be true, but he hasn't done it with much accuracy, and too often the "right place" is to a back on a safe, checkdown play. He finished the five exhibitions 50 of 82 (61 percent) for 517 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Sixty-one percent seems OK, but when you consider that probably 85-90 percent of his attempts traveled less than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, it's not so impressive.

"Quarterbacks, especially young ones, are very streaky," said Marrone, who is trying his best to defend his second-year starter, and did so after the last game by saying two of the four incompletions Manuel threw were quasi drops. "I thought that we had some good pockets at times where he was back there. I thought the two throws ... are they catchable? I think they could have been. Could they have been better throws? I think it could've been both."

Going on the road to open the season at Soldier Field against the Bears will not be an easy task for the Bills. The offense is nowhere near ready to perform at peak efficiency, and while the Bears will be looking to bounce back from a difficult defensive season in 2013, they have a potential juggernaut offense with quarterback Jay Cutler, wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, and running back Matt Forte. They will score points, even against a Buffalo defense that has played well this summer, and it seems tough to imagine the Bills could keep pace.

If Manuel doesn't play well, the Bills won't have a chance, and Marrone said he has to keep his wits about him, and help other players around him make plays. "He can't press, and he's got to relax in the pocket and throw," said Marrone. "We can help him out too by making those plays. Fred (Jackson) made a nice play, a big first down (turning a short pass into a 16-yard gain that converted a third-and-14). We've got to make those catches and make those plays to help him."

What Buffalo will hope to do is establish its running game. The Bills led the NFL in rushing attempts last year by a wide margin over Seattle. In C.J. Spiller and Jackson, they have a top-notch duo, and they now can go four-deep at the position with Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon. Last season, the Bears were pathetic against the run, yielding 2,583 yards, 5.3 per attempt, and 22 rushing touchdowns, so it would be wise for Hackett to play strength against weakness. Still, Manuel will have to make some key throws, and the jury is still way out on determining whether he's capable of doing so.

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