The quarterback seems to be the constant focus in football these days. The MSM harps on the importance of the "franchise" quarterback. Fans debate the merits of this QB or that. But unless you've played the position, I doubt that most fans, or pundits, understand what really goes into playing the position.
The QB must call the play, one out of dozens in the playbook, and know everyone's assignment. He goes to the line, with a clock running, and has to check the position of his ten teammates. Then he has to read the defense before the snap, remembering all the queues his coaches have instructed him in the week before. He receives the snap and steps out, retreating in a complicated crossover motion that must be executed fluidly and swiftly, making sure to not get his feet tangled in the feet of his lineman. If it's a run he must get to the right position and put the ball cleanly into the RB's hand without bumping him or pushing him off course. If it's a pass, he must get back to exactly the right depth, quickly read the defense, find the open man, and deliver the pass on target and out of the reach of defenders. The position is both physically and mentally demanding. the rate that stars from one level fail at the next highest level speaks to just how difficult the position is.
But there is a moment in time, that most good QB's have experienced, when the thinking stops, time disappears, and you just are the game. Suddenly the game slows down and all the other players seem to be moving in slow motion. You just know what everyone is doing, where they are going. It's as if you could play the game blindfolded. You just feel the rush, without looking, and calmly step aside. You now exactly where the open man is before you've turned your head. And throwing a perfect pass seems effortless. You almost feel sorry for the defense as you systematically hit the open receiver, carving them up play after play.
As fans we often look for obvious signs that the QB is playing well - completions, first downs, touchdowns. I would offer to the more discriminating fan a different perspective. The next time you watch a game, look to see which QBs seem to be in a Zen moment. Consider this in contrast to those who may be doing well but seem to be struggling to sustain their performance. If you've watched Brady or Manning you've no doubt seen times when they were just in the zone - times they seemed unstoppable. As a Broncos fan you certainly seen Elway in the zone more times than you can recall. As a fan you probably intuitively recognize this, even if you didn't know how to describe it. A QB just seemed to "be on his game."
If you watched Friday's game you saw times when Orton was on the verge of a Zen moment as well as times when he clearly wasn't. As the pre-season progresses, rather than just watching completions or such, trying seeing if he (or Simms for that matter) appear to be experiencing those moments of being in the zone to a greater extent. Look for how often and for how long, the game seems to be slowing down for them. Even a mediocre QB, when in the zone, will typically out-perform a "franchise QB" who is forcing his play.