Is benching Manuel a smart move?

Party like it’s 2009, Buffalo Bills fans. For the first time since the 2009 season in which Buffalo went 6-10, the Bills are switching quarterbacks for a reason other than injury. Kyle Orton—a seasoned veteran with a classic Bills record of 35 wins and 35 losses as a starter—will take over the starting job from second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel. On second thought, don’t party.

I hate this move. To start, it was a complete surprise to the team. “We still have faith in him,” running back C.J. Spiller said to reporters just before the switch was announced. “He’s our starting quarterback. We’re going to back him.”

Head coach Doug Marrone did not give Manuel enough time as a starter. Although he was the number one quarterback on the depth chart last season, Manuel only started 10 games due to injury. Pair that with the four games he started this year and it’s not even a complete season.

Don’t get me wrong, Manuel’s numbers have been abysmal the last two games. His total quarterback rating—which is on a scale from 0 to 100—has not risen above 8.4 since Buffalo’s Sept. 14 win against the Miami Dolphins. He also had more interceptions against the Houston Texans on Sunday Sept. 28 (two) than he had all season before that game (one).

But is this Manuel’s fault?

In short—no, not really. In the first two games and wins of the season, Manuel averaged just 24 pass attempts per game. In the next two games and losses, he averaged over 40 attempts. This change led to a diminished rushing game that couldn’t put up more than 27 yards in either of the last two games.

It also meant that running back Anthony “Boobie” Dixon—who broke a 47-yard run against the Chicago Bears in week one—didn’t touch the ball at all. The change in play calling is as much at fault for the diminished level of play as Manuel is.

If Orton were a better quarterback, then maybe I would feel differently. Orton has had only five seasons with a QBR over 50. In 2011, former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow usurped him and Orton was traded away.

Even though I hate the thought, the Bills will indeed play in Detroit against the Lions on Sunday Oct. 5 with Orton as the quarterback. If Orton does well, then there could be legitimate quarterback controversy that could cause a massive locker room distraction. If Orton plays poorly, Manuel has to come back and play after the coaching staff effectively told him he was the second-best quarterback on roster. His psyche would not be in a good state.

Had you asked me two weeks ago how the Bills would do this season, I would have given you a 20-minute speech about how Buffalo was going to go back to the playoffs for the first time since I was in kindergarten. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was going to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and the bricks at the end of tight end Scott Chandler’s arms would magically turn into hands.

Now, my answer is a little different. If the Bills lose to the Lions, they have no chance to make the playoffs. After one of the most promising starts in recent memory, a third straight loss would kill any remnants of momentum that still exist. The Bills no longer make me want to shout—they make me want to curl up in a ball and cry myself to sleep.