Sunday, October 12, 2014

Buffalo's Orton, team speed cause for concern for Patriots' defense

Buffalo Bills' coach Doug Marrone benched his young quarterback last week in favor of a well-traveled veteran, and in the process has transformed his offense into potentially one of the most dangerous units in the National Football League.

Right, you are saying, Kyle Orton puts this offense over the top.  Kyle Orton?  The same Kyle Orton who lost his starting gig in Denver to Tim Tebow, of all people?  The same Kyle Orton who was so disenchanted with his backup role with the Cowboys last season that he held out of camp and forced Dallas to waive him?

That Kyle Orton?
Wilfork and the rest of the Patriots' front seven have a big task awaiting

Yes, that Kyle Orton.  The eight-year veteran signal caller is no slouch, but has had the misfortune of being a pawn in other people's agendas since entering the league as a fourth-round draft choice of Chicago in 2005.

When Lovie Smith was coaching the Bears, he loved the fundamentally sound Orton and, after a couple of years playing tag with bears' "franchise" quarterback Rex Grossman, Smith named him the starting quarterback in week three of the 2009 preseason, and the team was finally his.

But general manager Jerry Angelo pulled the rug out from underneath Smith by trading Orton to the Broncos for the diva-esque Jay Cutler..

...Orton taking over as the starter in Denver for now-Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, but injury and the fact that the Broncos really weren't very good overall - plus the fact that McDaniels was shown the door late in the season opened the door for Tim Tebow to ascend to the throne and was the beginning of the end for Orton.

There's much more to the tale, and none of it filled with rainbows and unicorns, but over the years of being stuck in a revolving door, the one thing that kept Orton in demand was his grasp of the fundamentals and his old-school approach to the game - in other words, a wonderful toy to have holding the clipboard.

That really wasn't what fans in Buffalo wanted to see initially, as the E.J. Manuel experiment is far from completed, but it was exactly what the Buffalo Bills need - nothing flashy, just a guy that has the smashmouth mentality that will serve him and his boss well, especially when those winds starting off Lake Eerie in December and, hopefully for the Bills, in January as well.

Because with Orton at quarterback, the Bills are much more dynamic on offense because of his sound fundamentals and feel for the game.

Where Manuel's skill set more closely resembles that of fellow-struggling second-year quarterback Geno Smith, Manuel's offensive line isn't up to the task of the complicated zone blocking scheme that called for lots of deception and read option looks, but with Orton, everything is pretty much cut-and-dried: Run the ball, chop away at the yard sticks with the underneath passing game... some more, lull the opposition to sleep with screens and crossers and more runs, and then take a big shot down the field.  That's old school, and their offensive line will execute better because of the more simplistic scheme, which means that the New England Patriots defense will have to be at their best to stop the run - because if they can't do that, Orton is plenty savvy enough to pick the secondary apart with play action.

In fact, Orton's style feeds right into what teams do to be successful against the Patriots' plodding front seven, screen passes to spread out the linebackers and to open up short passes over the middle, where the Bills' running backs are deadly - then once established, he has the arm strength to hit the deep ball - and has a virtual plethora of outstanding receivers to throw to, rivaling the best units in the league.

This match up doesn't bode well for the Patriots, particularly since the injury bug is going to keep defensive end Chandler Jones to limited action, while the teams' best screen pass defender, Dont'a Hightower, has been officially ruled inactive for this game with a bum knee - and with the much-anticipated debut of veteran press corner Brandon Browner delayed for yet another week, the Bills could cause chaos with the New England front seven.

That said, how do the Patriots defend what could be a potential juggernaut?

The first rule is to stop the run, which in a fundamentally-based offense such as the Bills run is what keys their entire attack - but caution must also be taken to stop that screen game, which is used as an extension of the running game, and which always seems to cause the New England defense fits.

It's that simple.  The Patriots have the defensive backs to match up well with what Orton has to throw to on the outside, but if Buffalo is successful with their screen game and forces the Patriots into dime coverage to keep up with it, the Bills could enjoy a banner day with many yards and many points gained by their speedy receivers and tough runners.

Keeping Buffalo's offense to third-and-long by being stout on the early downs is essentially the key to this game.  The Patriots' offense should find some room to work with and will score some points, but only if New England's defense can get off the field on third down, and with Orton on the field instead of Manuel, mistakes will be harder to count on... New England will have to force the Bills into errors, but the only way that will happen is to stop Buffalo's running game and screen passes, otherwise, there will be no joy in Foxborough come dinner time.

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