Kyle Orton has been sacked 13 times in only three starts for the Buffalo Bills.
Six came in last Sunday’s one-point victory against the Minnesota Vikings. Such a total typically shows up in the stat line of the quarterback on the losing end, as was the case with the five times the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater was dumped.
It’s an ominous trend, especially as the Bills prepare for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, who despite their 1-6 record, have this going for them: They rank fourth in the NFL with 20 sacks and do an excellent job of pressuring the passer.
The Bills appear on the verge of taking at least one major step toward improving their pass protection after having sixth-year veteran Kraig Urbik replace rookie Cyril Richardson at left guard during Wednesday’s practice. Afterward, coach Doug Marrone said Urbik “may” start in Richardson’s place against the Jets.
Richardson has struggled badly since taking over for injured Chris Williams in Week Four, and had his worst performance against Minnesota. Vikings end Everson Griffen took advantage of Richardson on multiple occasions with stunts while registering three sacks.
The challenge figures to only get more difficult Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Jets have a pair of dynamic pass-rushers in linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, who leads them with four sacks, and Sheldon Richardson, who has three. Jets coach Rex Ryan does plenty of exotic scheming to make life difficult for blockers … and especially for the quarterback.
“It’s a great challenge from a standpoint of just the front four, from a standpoint of pressure, from the standpoint of pressure looks and things like that,” Marrone said. “Assignments are key. That’s the first part of it. And then the next thing is that you have to actually block them, which is the biggest challenge. We’ve got to do a good job and we can’t have anyone running free and getting free hits” on Orton.
Added Marrone about the Jets’ defensive front, “Outstanding, powerful, tough matchups, great against the run, very good against the pass. They’re an outstanding bunch … they’ve been ranked” high “and every one of those players can flat out play, even the backups. Even the guys that we don’t talk about, you have to make sure that you’re at your best.”
Urbik’s focus is on doing his part to help plug the severe leaks in the Bills’ pass protection Sunday.
“It’s one of the best D-lines in the league right now and they generate a lot of pressure,” he said. “And it’s the Jets; they do a bunch of blitzes every down. We’re going to have to be on our game and do extra film work this week.”
That goes for everyone else on the offense, including the two running backs taking over for injured Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller: Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown.
Dixon and Brown first must help reduce the heat on Orton by being productive runners and minimizing the number of times the Bills are in unfavorable down-and-distance situations.
“Because getting in that second-and-long and third-and-long, that’s when they can pin their ears back and come and get you,” Dixon said.
Secondly, Dixon and Brown must be able to provide protection against the frequent blitzing the Jets will do.
“It’s going to be crucial, because they do a lot of penetrating,” Dixon said. “At the snap of the ball, they’ve got guys that can penetrate right away. So it’s going to be on the offensive line and it’s going to be on the backs to get it blocked up and get Kyle enough time to get the ball off, and we’ll be OK.”
In the last three games, Orton has been sacked more than twice as many times as EJ Manuel was while starting the first four.
Some of that has to do with a steady erosion of the Bills’ pass protection, especially at guard. Some of that has to do with Orton being more of a true pocket passer who tends to wait as long as possible for receivers to get open.
“I have to do a good job of just standing in there, trusting those guys and giving the receivers time to work,” the quarterback said.
Another factor is that Orton is a 10-year veteran, while Manuel is only in his second season, and experience has taught him that sometimes taking a sack is better than forcing a bad throw. Although Orton has thrown three interceptions and lost two fumbles, including one where he showed poor awareness against the Vikings, he has impressed the Jets’ Ryan with his decision-making while under duress.
“If he has to take a sack, he’ll take a sack,” Ryan said in a conference call Wednesday. “But he’s not going to make the huge mistake.”