It became obvious to me in the aftermath of the game, reading through the comments on the myriad posts that went up, that Kyle Orton's performance was a lightning rod for the game. I immediately shelved much of my work for the game and focused on breaking down his throws.
But please keep in mind where I am coming from. I am deeply passionate about this idea; I have yet to yield to any argument against it. Right now, The Process is More Important Than the Outcome.
Memorize it. Write it down. Burn it into your flesh if you have to. And I'm not just talking about the score of the game. In analyzing Orton's throws, little weight is given to whether it ended up in a defender's hands, on the ground, or in Royal's mitts. What matters is HOW it got there. Right now, nothing matters more to the Broncos than being on a fulfilling path, a path where they build on strengths and excise weaknesses. It is important to be on a path to success, not to simply have a few successes, by hook or by crook. This is going to be a focus on The Path.
Some quick disclaimers here, for those not familiar with my style: I scout college talent and use that same approach to evaluate players for the Broncos, and for each position I cover a plethora of static and dynamic criteria. For example, I grade out a QB's drop-back, how well he sets up to throw, his pocket presence, etc. For QBs in particular I track 19 possible evaluation criteria, though not all the criteria may crop up on any individual play. The average is right around 13 grades per play. Each grade rates from 1-6, with 6 being a perfect example, 1 being a total failure, and most plays clocking in right around the middle. I then derive a percentage from those grades that can be applied to either the play as a whole, or combined across a range of plays to give an average idea of skill in one particular area of evaluation. Of course, a higher percentage reflects well on a player, and a lower percentage indicates a lot more work is needed. In my experience, for the NFL, VERY GOOD play is above 90%, AVERAGE play is right around 80%, and BAD play is 70% and less.
This system isn't perfect. I make no such claim. But it is true and consistent, and it becomes more accurate all the time as I learn more about the game and what it is exactly that I am looking at.
With all that in mind, let's break down the tape on Orton's throws...
All in all, Orton had 17 gradable throws (including one that was nullified on a penalty, but which still can be graded on his end). Of these 17 throws, I successfully broke down 14 of them. Due to a recording error I was unable to process his first three throws, so I would like to quickly address that issue here.
I did see the throws even though I couldn't evaluate them, and they all carried the general impression of being good throws. By most common measurements they can be classified as good, and were completions. Outside of noting their location on the field, they will not be included in this analysis, though I would like everyone to remain cognizant that if they WERE included, they would likely only improve the overall rating we come up with.
Now onto what I did grade:
Throw #4: Overall grade 93%
This was a pre-snap read based on a motion player, namely LaMont Jordan out of the backfield. Based on the coverage (a LB lined up wide) the correct read was to Jordan on the stop route, especially with the LB playing 10 yards off. Orton graded out highly overall on this play with a great setup, good mechanics, and good timing for a player who is not a common WR. The ball had plenty of zip and was placed well.
Throw #5: Overall grade 77%
A nice quick drop and progression was offset by a poor setup as he threw too quickly and out of rhythm. Needed to get his foot a bit more forward and really get into the throw. As it was, he released a duck that wobbled but was complete to Royal. The accuracy was affected by the lack of velocity on the throw, and as a result Eddie had to go low to catch it and was touched down in the turf. However the play was an excellent pre-snap read again, and Eddie was the best choice of two clearly open WRs.
Throw #6: Overall grade 62%
Again, a good drop followed by a poor setup. He's making decisions quickly, but perhaps too quickly as this is now two throws in a row where he throws from a position halfway between his back foot and being set up, and this one gets to Gaffney too late.
Throw #7: Overall grade 100%
This throw looks great from start to finish. A great read and progression followed by a solid step up and into his throw. Well balanced with a complete follow-through, and the ball zips nicely with plenty of speed to a sideline out-route. Timing and placement is terrific, and Jackson gets the ball in stride with an opportunity to turn upfield if the coverage isn't great (it was).
Throw #8: Overall grade 99%
Receivers run very similar routes from different positions here, and Orton connects again on another picture-perfect out-route, this time to Eddie. A good setup and throw, but the ball was misplaced, forcing Eddie to turn a bit to pull it in - nothing serious. I still haven't decided whether that is planned (throwing to an inside shoulder on those types of routes) but it happens often enough and doesn't seem to be a problem with the execution of the play when I see it... Possibly an instance of QB-WR preference. In this case, a very nice throw and catch.
Throw #9: Overall grade 64%
D'OH! A decent drop-back, but the play action is a complete no-sell after three steps on the drop. Orton is visibly off balance, and steps right into a collapsing pocket (though it is to the side where he has extra protection, so maybe more a design thing and less an instinctual thing). The accuracy is way off, and even without the DB right there, he leads Graham way too much. Release looks good, so the error will be chalked up to decision making and accuracy. Despite stepping incorrectly in the pocket, however, he keeps his feet bouncing and is in decent position for the throw, and doesn't hurry it in the face of the rush. From a technical standpoint, not his worst throw yet; but close enough.
Throw #10: Overall grade 81%
Ahh, the designed bootleg, a Shanny classic, featuring the Hillisinator himself. Orton really looks good on the roll-out, but once again, there isn't quite enough effort to sell the fake, though better than last time. Orton throws well on the move, his accuracy is good (in this instance a function of arm strength) and he shows a hint of touch putting it right in Hillis' breadbasket (does Hillis eat bread? Maybe it should be an antimatter basket?) Overall a nice throw and catch, and Orton's mechanics on the move seem quite sound. Gotta work on selling that fake though...
Throw #11: Overall grade 74%
Now we get into an area that I like to call "can't get 'stoked' up." The next three throws look very similar to one another, the pair at the beginning looking similar by formation, the pair at the end looking similar by route. All three feature Stokley as the target. On this one Orton drops well, but throws quickly, barely setting up at all, and the throw is way off target, going behind Stokley. Stokley's route is odd...almost like it was run too close to Eddie, but no way to know for sure. Orton looks good in the pocket, but seemed to have been going on a pre-snap read. From the looks of the route, this play works similar to a "bubble screen" though the player doesn't (or didn't as the case may be) "bubble", that is, work back and then forward to the line of scrimmage. Overall Orton grades out pretty rough on this play, in what amounts to a fraction of a second of playtime. Football can be cruel like that....
Throw #12: Overall grade 94%
This play looks much, much better than the previous one, and Orton spends a second in the pocket letting the routes develop. He also sets up perfectly and delivers a ball with good velocity while stepping just to the side a little in his release to throw around a defender. In fact, the play looks perfect until the Niner DB gets his hand inside of Stokley's body for the deflection. A tight window throwing into a unit in coverage mode. Overall a good play but little room for error.
Throw #13: Overall grade 85%
Similar formation to the previous play, again Stokley is targeted. Orton's mechanics in the pocket are excellent and he gets into the throw giving it good velocity. One thing that bothered me was Orton didn't seem to look away from Stoke's side - and of course, when the throw was released, everything was great except for the intended target. There was either a misread by Orton, or a misread by the receiver, but Stokley and the ball weren't going to meet on that play. A critical mistake by someone at the last second reduces the overall grade of an otherwise perfect play. I will say that I hedge towards thinking that Stokley ran the wrong route, partly because of the post-play body language, and also by how quickly Stokley went into defensive-back mode after the INT, like he knew right away that he screwed up. But with no way to know for sure, Orton is penalized in this analysis for a misread. (If I were evaluating the whole play, including Stokley, they both would be credited with the mistake.)
Throw #14: Overall grade 48%
Horrible play, and the only throw of this drive (obviously, since it was an INT). Orton's drop-back was unfinished and he never set up his feet. He did however make a good choice on the open Gaffney, but with such horrible mechanics the ball had no drive behind it and two DBs were lined up between Gaffney and the ball. The defender's leap was a great one, but not super-spectacular or anything. Orton's body language was that of a shanking golfer, knowing he didn't get enough on it as soon as it was out of his hand. He had absolutely no follow-through on the pass.
Throw #15: Overall grade 83%
Not the best setup again, but his footwork is noticeably better on this drive, though not perfect. Orton doesn't move very well in the pocket on this play, but puts a bit 'o touch on a short lob over a defender to Royal, who does a good job of YACing. His placement and accuracy despite the poor pocket showing are impressive, and show how well he can execute the short game.
Throw #16: Overall grade 83%
Another pre-snap read that is excellent, but Orton moves into and then tries to throw around pressure on the left side. I like that he is always stoic in the pocket, but he keeps moving poorly in the pocket, and the result is not the best position or angle for his throws. The throw in this case wobbles to the right and is off target to Royal. Again, an excellent play up to and just after the snap, but falls short due to poor mechanics (his release this time).
Throw #17: Overall grade 66%
This was the most obvious example of Orton reading heavy coverage, and with only a three-man rush he moved around well enough, but couldn't seem to calm down and set up properly. He finally went with a short toss to Jackson that was well placed, but not the best choice on the field. Overall a barely average play. And his last one of the night.
Overall Grade Averages
(for a breakdown of exactly what each of these categories entails, see here.)
Overall Impressions, and Where do We Go from Here?
First off, I would certainly qualify this as a bad game, and outside of his pre-snap reads and drop-back mechanics, he has many, many things to work on.
Right now, Orton's strengths appear to be his conceptual grasp of the offense, but not his instinctual grasp of it (as is to be expected). He tends to know where and why, but in the heat of battle he loses track of the little things, like stepping into his throws, or moving up in the pocket for an extra second.
He also looks very good standing tall in the pocket. If he was rattled or shellshocked, or just plain scared, it didn't show. His mistakes were rooted in fundamental errors, common for someone thinking too hard and not doing the small things instinctually. There were even times when I would have liked to see him scramble a bit, just to see what he could generate in that area, but he appeared to be either under orders, or very cognizant of sticking with his pocket and making the most of it. This is probably the best strategy, since it is unlikely he will be let down very often by this pocket. Throwing on the move doesn't seem to be a problem, but with such a small sample size, we'll hold out on judgment there.
In general his release looks good, it is quick, without unnecessary action, and he delivers a nice, catchable ball. When he isn't betrayed by footwork and positioning in the pocket, he makes all of his throws.
Where we really need to see improvement is in moving around in the pocket. He isn't moving instinctually AT ALL in there, and his play-action 'fakes' are real groaners. There were only two run, back to back (technically, there was plenty of time in between them), and neither seemed to be sold all that well. In fact, the first one brought up one defensive player IN A GOAL LINE situation. They guessed we were going to pass, and the play action didn't throw them off at all.
It would also be nice to see him setting up more consistently. Early on, even on good overall throws, his forward foot wasn't ideally placed, and it took something off of his throws. A player who has spent enough time backing up in the pocket will develop those kinds of tendencies, and it remains to be seen how quickly he un-learns that, because it is affecting his velocity and accuracy on a regular basis.
On the topic of accuracy, I like what I see (when I see it), especially his ability to put just the right amount of touch on his throws; but this was a relatively small sampling for that.
This game really featured heavily for routes run on and to the right side. Out of 17 throws, only 4 ever wandered to the left (Dre' Bly covers the right side...maybe he is some kind of strange magnet?), and only five ever went more than 5 yards through the air. There was only a single deep throw, so that isn't a sampling one can hang their hat on, for good or bad, but given that everything went wrong mechanically on that throw, I feel safe saying the jury is still out on this Bronco's deep ball. Despite throwing to the right so often, he found five different receivers there, and the only disappointment I really had in the receiver department was that he never was able to establish a connection with Stokley. Factor in the lack of strong impressions left by Stokley in camp, and you have to wonder how much more time they will need in order to get on the same page, and just what the problem is here....
I hope this establishes a good baseline to work from, in order to gauge and measure Orton's progress as we work through not only the preseason, but into the regular season as well. For an offense that requires a Master's in footballosophy to run well, Orton's first test seems to show that he at least deserves to keep coming to class. I've seen enough 'borderline' talents to know that Orton is certainly not in that group. All the tools are there, and with experience and consistency, I look forward to watching this QB's growth.