A Second Helping of Carpe Diem

    My dad used to love to go fishing.  He spent a fair amount of time fly fishing along the banks of the creeks, rivers and lakes of Colorado.  Many times I accompanied him; we even spent a couple of different weeks backpacking with the main portion of our food coming from fish that we caught (and yes, there were many times that we went hungry ;-p ).  Now I have an admission to make:  I can't stand to fish.  

    I'm way too distractible to spend hours standing one place flicking a fly onto the water and away from it again.  I start wanting to see if I can peg the trees, the rocks, small land-bound animals . . . (just kidding on the animals).  But I went, because I enjoyed spending time with my dad.

    So after hours upon hours of learning about fishing and fish, the first time I ever heard the term "carpe diem," I thought it was something about dead fish.  After all, aren't carpe a type of fish, and diem a latin root for dead?

But wait, what do dead fish have to do with the Broncos?  The answer after the jump.

    In my first post on carpe diem (which can be found here, I pondered what has gone on since the end of the 2009 campaign and wondered if circumstances would not prompt McDaniels to "seize the day" and accelerate his plans to modify the offense, and advance Tim Tebow to the starting position in 2010.  In this post, I'd like to ponder whether or not Kyle Orton is, in fact, the dead fish that many people believe him to be.

    Some folks have taken the position that Orton, is in fact, a dead fish -- though the more commonly used term is lame duck.  I will acknowledge that it is very difficult to see Orton's days in Denver as being anything other than numbered.  The Brady Quinn acquisition first gave rise the belief that Orton was on his way out.  Though it could easily be argued that Quinn was brought in as a replacement for Chris Simms, many chose to see this as a sign that Orton had fallen out of favor and was going to be replaced.  This view was bolstered by the drafting of Tim Tebow.  Suddenly, Quinn was relegated back to the backup role that he was most likely brought in to fulfill, and Tebow became the anointed replacement for Orton.

    A more moderate position has suggested that Orton will start at least a part of the 2010 season (a few have suggested the entire 2010 season), while Tebow is brought up to speed by playing in selected situations.  The view being that Tebow will, at some point, replace Orton within the 2010 season, in much the same way as Cutler displaced Plummer in 2006.

    Again, the writing does appear to be on the wall that Orton's days are numbered.  The question, then, becomes the timing of that replacement.  It could be today, it could be tomorrow (but please, please, please, do not start rumors to that effect).  Orton's time could be up in training camp, in the preseason, mid-season, by the end of the season, or some undefined time in the future.

    We may see a situation in which Orton chooses to "carpe diem," to seize the day, ala the Brees/Rivers situation, or the Favre/Rodgers one.  If you will recall, in 2003, San Diego finished 4-12 under the leadership of Drew Brees.  The Chargers drafted Phillip Rivers in 2004.  Brees responds by leading San Diego to a 12-4 season and a playoff appearance.  In 2004, Brett Favre lead the Packers to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance.  Yet, this was Favre's 13th season, so Green Bay began making plans for his eventual retirement by drafting Aaron Rodgers in 2005.  Yet, Favre refused to surrender his starting position and hung around for three more years, relegating Rodgers to riding the bench.  The point is, we do not yet know how the Orton/Quinn/Tebow/Brandstater situation will all play out.

    So, it is not out of the realm of possibility that we could see Orton rise up, have a great season in 2010, lead the Broncos into the playoffs, and even (yes I know this will annoy some folks) be around for multiple years.  There are some very specific reasons why I believe that this could potentially happen.  I will address in terms of some of the criticisms/objections that have been raised about Orton.

Orton is not an elite quarterback.
    I wouldn't even dream of arguing that point with anyone.  When you look at his statistics from 2009, he ranks between #11 and #16 in nearly every category.  That pretty much puts him smack in the middle of the pack.  He showed moments of promise, and moments that made you cringe.  In short, he was an average NFL quarterback.  What I would be willing to dispute is the claim that all he can ever be is an average NFL quarterback, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Orton has never started a playoff game.
    This is something of a subpoint to the statement that he is not an elite quarterback.  Again, I would not dream of arguing the point.  Reality is, Orton has not been the starter for either of his teams in a playoff game.  By the same token, such a simple statement does not tell the whole story.  All three years that he has been the primary starter, he has helped position his team for a playoff spot.   In 2005, as a rookie, he led his team to 8 straight wins while holding down the fort awaiting the return of starter Rex Grossman.  Please don't trot out the worn "the defense won that season" argument.  Before going too far with it, consider this: Grossman replaced Orton in that playoff game.  He went 17 out of 41 for 192 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT -- a QB rating of 54.1 (or 5.6 points lower than Orton's season QB rating).  Also consider that the vaunted Bears' defense allowed Chicago to fall behind by 13 points, and thereafter, each time the Bears scored, the defense gave up another Carolina score.

    In 2008, the Bears missed the playoffs by one game.  A game which Brian Urlacher was quoted as saying was not the 31-24 loss to Houston in the season finale as much as it was a loss to Atlanta in week 6 in which Orton had led the Bears on a drive to take the lead 20-19 with 11 seconds left.  But Chicago's special teams gave up a long kick return and the defense allowed Atlanta to get into field goal range to kick the winning field goal -- all in the span of 11 seconds.  In 2009, Orton & the Broncos had a shot at getting into the playoffs which was squandered by 2 games -- the last moment touchdown that cost them the Oakland game and the rout by Kansas City.  In both of those games not only did the offense struggle, but the defense did as well.

Orton was the lowest ranked QB in the NFL his rookie year.

    There is no way to argue that.  Among qualified passers (the NFL defines qualified as a passer who has averaged 14 pass attempts per game for the season) in 2005, Orton was #32 out of 32 passers.  Absolutely agree with this.  But let's look at what he did after that.  After sitting for one season and only playing the final 3 games of the following season, Orton raised his ranking to that of the 25th ranked passer in the league. Last year, his third as a primary starter, his passer rating ranked 14th in the league.  So, he started at the very bottom of the pack, and in 2 subsequent years has managed to rise to the middle.  ESPN has the quarterback ratings going back to 2002.  In the span between 2002 and 2009, no other quarterback, after being at the bottom of the ranking's one year has ever risen than the 21st ranking (that would be Joey Harrington who was 32nd in 2002, and rose to 21st in 2007).  Five of those quarterbacks (03 - Stewart, 06 - Walters, 07 - Clemens, 08 - Anderson and 09 - Russell) did not become a primary starter again after that 32nd ranking.  You cannot judge any player's potential on a single season of work.  If we did, there is a good chance that neither John Elway (1983, 54.9 rating, 27th in the league) nor Peyton Manning (1998, 71.2 rating, 23rd in the league) would have been given a chance to show what they could do.

Orton is only as good as his defense.
    This is a strange statement.  It would seem to propose that when the defense excels, Orton excels, when the defense struggles, Orton struggles.  However, most of the time that this statement is advanced it is intended to bolster the claim that when the team wins and Orton's numbers are up, it's because the defense was playing well, while when the defense is struggling, Orton's numbers go down.  Yet, when we look at each season that Orton has been the primary starter we find:

2005 - The defense was ranked 1/2 (points/yards) & Orton was the 32nd ranked passer.  Okay, that makes a certain amount of logical sense.  The defense was dominating so the rookie did not have to do much other than protect the ball.
2007 - The defense was ranked 16/28 (points/yards) & Orton did not have a passer rating because he only played in the last three games after Grossman & Griese led the team to a 5-8 record.  Despite a low ranked defense, Orton won 2 out of the last 3 games.  The defense gave up 20 points in two of those contests.  Orton led the team to victory in one of those 20+ point games.
2008 - The defense was ranked 16/21 (points/yards) & Orton was the 25th ranked passer.  The Chicago defense gave up 20 or more points in 11 games that season.  Orton led the team to victory in 5 of those contests, and would have notched a 6th win, had the defense not allowed Atlanta to score in the last 11 seconds after Orton had engineered a go-ahead touchdown drive.
2009 - The defense was ranked 12/7 (points/yards) & Orton was the 14th ranked passer.  The offense scored 20 or more points in 8 games and won 6 of those games.  In the first half of the season, they won all 4 of the games in which the offense scored 20 or more points.  In the 2nd half of the season, the Broncos only won 2 of the 4 games in which the offense scored 20 or more points.  The defense gave up 20 or more points in 9 games, and Denver lost 8 of those contests. 

This comment begins to take on the aspect of a chicken or the egg type question.  Did the offense not score because the defense was leaving the opposing team on the field too long, or did the defense give up so many points because the offense was staying on the field long enough?  Or, as it most likely, was it a combination of the two?

The one constant in all of this is that while his defense has bounced around from the top of the league to the lower third and back up to the upper quarter, Orton's productivity has steadily improved.  Does this mean that Orton does not need to step up his game?  Certainly not.  Does it mean that he's incapable of stepping up his game?  Certainly not.  It simply means that the Broncos need to improve on both sides of the ball, in order to benefit one another.

Orton can't throw the ball more than 15 yards (or at least not accurately beyond that).
    This is one of the more ludicrous criticisms leveled against Orton.  Of course he can throw the ball farther than 15 yards -- I don't believe that there is any NFL QB who can't throw the ball farther than that.  A little bit of evidence: ESPN posts statistics on when a QB throws the ball 21-30 yards (and that's distance past the line of scrimmage in the air), 31-40 yards, and 41+ yards.  Orton's numbers breakdown as follows:

Year
Distance
Completions
Completion %
Touchdowns
Interceptions
2005 (15 games)
21-30
10
35.7
2
3

31-40
1
10.0
0
1

41+
0
0.0
0
0
2007 (3 games)
21-30
1
20.0
1
0

31-40
0
0.0
0
0

41+
1
20.0
1
1
2008 (15 games)
21-30
17
37.0
5
1

31-40
1
12.5
0
3

41+
0
0.0
0
0
2009 (15 games)
21-30
10
40.0
1
0

31-40
2
40.0
2
0

41+
1
16.7
1
1


    At this point, we need to concede that, to-date, Orton has not displayed a tremendous amount of accuracy on his deep throw.  But just how bad are his numbers?  Let's again use Peyton Manning -- as Manning is one of the QB's who is often referenced as setting the bar for passers.  In 2009, Manning completed 11 passes in the 21-30 yard range.  This was 34.4% of his attempts in that distance with 5 touchdowns and 1 interception.  At the 31-40 yard range, Manning had 6 completions, which represented 25.0% of his attempts at that distance, with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  Manning did not complete a throw in the 41+ yard range.  So while Orton's accuracy at that range leaves something to be desired, he has proven that he can complete the long ball.  What we would all like to see is Orton complete them more consistently.  There will be more on Orton's performance with the long ball in an upcoming post.  Jeremy Bolander and I are working on a film review of all of Orton's long pass attempts (20 or more yards in the air) to ascertain what went right, and what went wrong.

Orton has hit his ceiling.
    I, personally, find this to be the least accurate, and perhaps the most annoying of the statements that are consistently made about Orton.  The concept of a player's ceiling has been drawn from the aeronautical concept of the a flight ceiling for an aircraft.  For an aircraft, the ceiling is the upper altitudinal limit at which any aircraft may fly, given its mechanical abilities.  For a football player, this is considered to be the highest level of statistics the player will be able to achieve given his particular physical abilities and skill set.  This would be evidenced by a steady climb in the player's statistics until those statistics reach a point at which they either plateau or begin to decline.  Donovan McNabb (since he was discussed by the fan base earlier in the off-season as a possible QB for Denver) is a good example of a player who has establish a ceiling:

60.1
77.8
84.3
86.0
79.6
104.7
85.0
95.5
89.9
86.4
92.9


We can see how McNabb's passer rating gradually rising until it peaked at 104.7, then begins to decline.  Have we seen a similar pattern with Orton?  No.

    Every season, that he has played, Orton's passer rating has increased: 05 - 59.7, 07 - 73.9, 08 - 79.8, and 09 - 86.8.  Until we see a plateau, or a decline in his passer rating, that is, until we see a high point which he does not again rise to, we cannot legitimately claim that we know where Orton's ceiling lies. 

Kyle Orton -- Dead Fish or Poised to Carpe Diem - Seize the Day

    Just as I could easily see McDaniels choosing to seize the day, accelerate his plans and start Tim Tebow come September, I can just as easily see Orton continuing his pattern of improving his play and seizing control of the starter's position and once again posting new personal bests as a quarterback. In his career, Orton has raised his passer rating by an average of 9 points per year.  If that pattern continues, his 2010 passer rating would be 95.8 -- that would most likely (based on the 2009 ratings) in the top 10 among NFL quarterbacks.  No matter how enamored McDaniels might  be of Tebow and/or Quinn, it is hard to believe that should Orton continue his improvement, lead Denver to the playoffs and (hopefully) help the Broncos make a deep playoff run, that McDaniels would choose to get rid of a successful veteran in favor of a less experienced quarterback.

     Do I believe Orton's days are numbered?  Of course, all NFL quarterbacks have careers with their teams that will end.  I'm just wondering if Orton will be able to establish himself as a quarterback who will last multiple years with the Broncos.  Depending on how this year goes, the answer could be yes.

Until then, "carpe diem" -- "enjoy the day."

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Mile High Report

You must be a member of Mile High Report to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Mile High Report. You should read them.

Join Mile High Report

You must be a member of Mile High Report to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Mile High Report. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker