I've seen a lot of comments about "The Sack," with the argument that Orton should have thrown the ball away rather than taking the sack which in turn took the Broncos out of field goal range. This article is not here to defend Orton's choice, but rather to raise a question from those of you who are better versed in the finer points of the NFL rules: more specifically, the Intentional Grounding rule.
More after the jump
It is my understanding that intentional grounding is called when a quarterback is in the pocket, and in order to avoid a sack throws a ball that has no realistic chance of being caught. It is also my understanding that Intentional Grounding results in a 10 yard penalty and loss of down. So my question becomes: Had Orton thrown the ball away is it not most likely that if he avoided a turnover, he would have been called for grounding?
I went to NFL Rewind and rewatched both the play, and the replay aired. I watched them in as close to stop action as I could manage. Here is what I saw.
1)A timeout was called at 7:03. Denver had the ball with a 3rd and 16.
2)After the timeout, Denver lined up in a 5 receiver set -- 2 on the right, 3 on the left. There were 5 defenders on the LOS, with a 6th drifting towards the left side of the offense. Each of the outside receivers had a defender lined up directly across from them, but about 7 yards off the LOS. There was a LB in the middle, and one on the right side of the offense. The 11th defender did not appear on the screen (in the replay he appears to be in the middle of the field about 10 yards off the LOS). Orton dropped into the shotgun.
3)The ball was snapped at 7:03.
4)The 4 down linemen rush, the MLB begins a blitz. The defender that had been the 5th man on the LOS drops into coverage, covering the right inside receiver. The RDE chucks the inside left receiver. The LBs and DBs remain in their same basic spots. 11th defender is still off the screen.
5)At 7:02, Orton is 6 yards behind the LOS, LDE is 4 yards behind the LOS, the LDT is 1 yard behind, the RDT is at the LOS, the MLB is at the LOS on a middle blitz, the RDE is 3 yards into the backfield.
6)At 7:02, the right outside receiver is 4 yards downfield cutting into the middle (he had the right inside reciever and a defender between himself and the QB). The right inside receiver is being picked off by a defender 1 yard off the LOS. The left outside receiver is 3 yards down field with a defender within 3 yards of him. The left middle receiver is at the LOS with the defender covering the left outside receiver 5 yards away. The left inside receiver is at the LOS with a defender 5 yards away. 11 defender is still not on screen.
7)At 7:01, Orton is still in the pocket, priming to either pump fake or thorw, 7 yards behind the LOS. The LDE is 6 yards deep, pushing the blocker back towards Orton. The LDT has slipped past his blocker, is 4 yards into the backfield with an unobstructed line to the QB. The MLB is being blocked, 4 yards into the backfield, but is also leaping into the air directly in front of Orton. The RDT is 5 yards into the backfield, is breaking free of his blocker and has an unobstructed line to the QB. The RDE is being successfully blocked 2 yard behind the LOS.
8)At 7:01, all receivers on the screen are well short of the 1st down marker. All have a defender within 1 yard of them. Two of the receivers' defenders look to be in a position to break on the ball should the throw come their way.
9)Still at 7:01, three defenders are standing upright, forming a line between Orton and his receivers. Receivers are still blanketed. 2 defenders are hitting Orton. The replay clearly shows that the first defender to hit Orton grabbed his throwing arm. As a side note, it also looked like Orton had to fight to not drop the ball.
A Couple of Things
From the snap to the initial hit on Orton, he had 2 seconds. His receivers were blanketed. He had a line of 3 defenders between himself and his receivers. The defenders hitting him were coming off the outside edges.
In looking at the play, it did not appear that Orton did not have the time to get off a throw away that would meet the NFL's definition of having "a realistic chance of completion." It also appeared that he did not have a line to a receiver to make such a throw that did not give a defender a chance to make a play on the ball. It appeared to me, in retrospect that an attempt to throw would have resulted in either a strong possibility of an interception -- since the defenders were looking for the ball while the receivers did not appear to be ready for a throw -- or an Intentional Grounding penalty -- which would have had the same result as a sack.
I'm left with the feeling that Orton got caught in a situation in which he could not possibly win.
I'm hoping that some of you with greater expertise than mine at analyzing plays will chime in here and let me know if I'm way off in left field (to mix sports metaphors) on this issue.