The other day, I was ambling about in some stat sites. An article went up about Orton and I decided to gather some stats and some research together - the better informed the argument, the more cogent it can become. I also recognized that I would need a bit of help putting together all the stats, since I wanted to find the bad as well as the good. I gave a yell to TJ 'lebowskibronco' Johnson, who was kind enough to pitch in on this article. It's from both of us.
I appreciate the recent post by Broncos Cheer regarding Kyle Orton. I loved the following discussions, and many posters made excellent points on both sides of the issue. Several folks were arguing against the long-term position of Kyle Orton as the QB of the Broncos, and that's a legitimate concern. I'm very upfront about my disagreement with that position, despite my enjoyment of the arguments on both sides. However - in my own mind, this issue can be aided by being subjected to a small amount of logic, a little history and the value of observing progressions. Kyle Orton's career is an obvious progression that will shed a lot of light on what his future with the Broncos will be.
/prəˈgrɛʃən/ Pronunciation [pruh-gresh-uhn], noun
Orton's career has been a long and continuous progression from mediocrity to high-quality play and yet many (perhaps most) fans, still view him as an unknown quantity at best and a known-but-unacceptable quantity at the worst. It's been my impression, in listening to fan comments here and elsewhere, that many of the people who still doubt Orton always did - before there was really any evidence on which to base an opinion. In this article, I won't speak to that group. It's not because I don't respect them (I emphatically do), but because against ignorance, as it has been said, the gods themselves contend in vain. I have found that you cannot change anyone's mind if they have a prejudice. For the vast majority, who tend to open minds, I'd like to add some facts that seem to Bear on the situation.
I also saw a QB who was far more accurate than his numbers. Please let me explain: I had seen, over the years, a lot of QBs. I've been watching football for over 50 years now. As a result, there are a few things that I have come to believe. First - every QB makes mistakes, and in nearly every game. Joe Montana at his best made bone-headed errors far more frequently than memory admits. Our memories of such things tend to be transient. Watch a few of Peyton Manning's games from this year. He's playing very well - and he makes foolish and (to us) obvious errors in nearly every game. Many of them are overcome by the play of his receivers, who constantly adjust their routes, fight successfully for the ball and at times knock the ball down to prevent interceptions. That's what every good receiving corps has to do. Expecting QBs to make zero mistakes isn't realistic. They all make them. It's part of the game. In fact, in the NFL, there are, on average, approximately 2 turnovers per game. Interceptions are also more common than fumbles, happening approximately 60% of the time. This doesn't even count the number of near interceptions caused by hurried throws or simply bad timing by the quarterback and wide receiver. To think that Orton is the only quarterback that has bad games, or to claim that he doesn't pass the "eye test" is akin to closing your eyes when watching every other game in the NFL.
In Chicago, Orton didn't have the luxury of help. His line was poor and his receivers were fair-to-abysmal, for the most part. There is a reason that the Bears brought on some new receivers this year - they had to, and it still hasn't helped their offense very much, in part due to inadequate changes on the O-line as well as injuries and problems on the defense.
In Denver, Orton and his receivers are still getting to learn each other. Royal has been in a possible sophomore slump, although he's still finding his role in this offense (is he or isn't he a slot receiver?). Marshall is coming on. Drops have come in groups - 4 in the first two games, none until Baltimore and then a few more. But as to Orton's accuracy? Let's look at history as well as the present.
Over the four years that Orton has played (he did not play in 2006) his completion percentage has risen steadily from 51.6 in 2005 to 53.8 in 2007, 58.5 in 2008 and 62.6 in 2009. Consider that for a moment - it has raised exactly 11 percentage points (a 21% increase) over that time. Since coming to Denver, that percentage has risen from 58.5 - 62.5. What are the odds that this will suddenly stop and he'll revert to old issues? Hardly any, I'll argue in a bit.
How about his QB rating? I know - it's almost a mystical number and many folks object to it because they, like myself, are nearly incapable of understanding it. Well, in fairness - I'm not much on mechanical engineering, either, but I still drive a car. I'm comfortable using the QB rating because it, like my vehicle, is simple a tool for getting around - one on the streets, and one for getting around on the issues of professional football. Orton's QB ratings?
2005 - 59.7
2006 - N/A
2007 - 73.9
2008 - 79.6
2009 - 95.5
To me, a consistent increase in rating indicates a steadily improving QB. In this case, we are looking at an improvement of over 35 points over this time period, which is most certainly not small. His current level leaves him in the top 12 in the league and he is in the top half and above in several categories. In still others - ones that I think matter the most - he's near the top of the league's QBs. I have to admit - I remain perplexed at those who feel that a top-ten QB "doesn't have 'it'." Really? What is the 'it' are you looking for? There are few Peyton Manning's and few Tom Brady's. As an aside on Brady - I believe that he will return to pre-surgery form. To my clinically-trained eyes, I can still see impediments in his post-surgery motions that would be reasonably caused by adhesions which remain after that operation. At times he also guards that knee, which is probably subconscious. He'll get there. Orton, on the other hand, has improved his mechanics greatly over the past 1.5 years. If you have access to games via Torrents or other media, please look for yourself. If you want to see what I'm talking about right now, here's a four-minute Kyle Orton highlight reel:
For those who are uncertain about this, the recent quote that I felt best sums up the situation came from Suzy Kolber on the Chargers Monday Night Football game. She claimed to be quoting Orton, and claims that he mentioned that he has learned more in 4 months under Josh McDaniels than he did in 4 years in Chicago. It's quite a statement - but if you look at his numbers, it's a very reasonable statement. Orton is improving rapidly. He's learning an incredibly complex offense that Tom Brady once remarked takes a couple of years - or more- to learn. The incessant demand of fans that he already by perfectly proficient, make all the throws (including those that aren't called by Josh McDaniels) and make no errors is simply unrealistic. Folks - no QB does that. Even during the 49ers first championship season of 1983, it's well known that Bill Walsh would hold back much of the playbook from none other than Joe Montana, because Montana still had not grasped the entire offense. And yet, we expect Orton to have immediately mastered an offense that many consider more complex than Walsh's.
All QBs have to learn the system. I'm aware that some fans hate the idea that QBs are also ranked by wins, but that doesn't change the fact that they are. Orton has done the job for the Broncos. Whether they are 7-1 or 6-2 after the Pittsburgh game, unless Orton has some kind of a meltdown, most of our problems weren't and aren't with the QB position.
Let's look at the O-line, shall we? If we have learned anything in the past year, it's that the O-line and receivers matter greatly to a QB's performance. Those fans in Chicago have learned the same. The simple fact is that the O-line, just as some of our members were wise enough to predict, is not what it was last year. There are multiple issues, but in the end, Orton has already been sacked 11 times for a loss of 67 yards. During some games, he is usually very safe. When the defense is able to put him down and/or to hurry him frequently, like all QBs, his numbers decline. The line needs to play better. I believe that the change from a zone blocking scheme to a more mixed scheme, which our players aren't perfectly suited for, is a problem that they are working to improve. It may take another year's offseason - certainly, I expect that we will have a couple of changes to the line in the next season.
We should also look at his supposed 'immobility'. How many times does he need to move nicely out of the way of the rush and complete passes on the run before some fans will admit that he has some skill there? He's not Jake Plummer (Sorry, Zap:D) - he doesn't move constantly. But he's kept his sack numbers decent and he has more skill and mobility than he gets credit for. That seems to be a theme, doesn't it? Well - in all fairness, it should be.
Orton keeps doing two things - improving, and winning. Frankly, the simple fact that folks can complain about the QB position with the kind of numbers that Orton has put up and the win total that he is (and make no mistake) in great part responsible for doesn't surprise me any longer, but it's a darned shame. Fans seem to be blowing in the wind - when we're 6-0, hardly anyone has an issue with Kyle. At 6-1, even 6-2, suddenly they're not going to keep him? Um, folks...? Consistency is as good for fans as it is on the field. What is it about this year that has made so many fans into windsocks, twisting and turning whichever way the wind is blowing at that moment? I don't think that I've ever seen Broncos' fans so nervous.
Here's what Orton doesn't do: He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He doesn't throw INTs. He doesn't fumble the ball easily - in fact, I've been pleasantly surprised that he's been able to hold on the the ball during some of the hits that he's taken. He doesn't give up the ball when you need him to hold on to it. He doesn't throw it away on INTs, either. He's learned to just throw it out of bounds and come back for the next play.
He doesn't blame anyone else if things go wrong. He's harder on himself than anyone else can be, even the demanding Josh McDaniels. Many folks have mistaken McD's tendency to not praise Orton excessively as a tacit criticism. I don't see it that way at all. McDaniels had the same tendency with Tom Brady, and that should give those who claim that McD doesn't have faith in Orton a great deal of pause.
Their relationship isn't unlike that of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Brady recently gave some insight into this relationship in an interview from Details Magazine:
"Sometimes, during practice, you throw a bad ball - that's the way it goes. But the video comes up and he says, 'Brady, you can't complete a goddamn hitch.' And I'll be sitting there thinking, I'm a *censored* nine-year veteran, I've won three goddamn Super Bowls - he can kiss my... That's what you're thinking on the inside. But on the outside I'm thinking, You know what? I'm glad he's saying that. I'm glad that's what he's expecting, you know? Because that's what I should be expecting. That's what his style is."
Former Bronco and Patriot John Lynch commented,
"What struck me about Josh was that he'd get in there and coach Tom Brady. If Brady made a mistake, Josh would let him know it and he wouldn't mince words about it. He had great control."
Much was made over the sideline criticism that McDaniels gave Orton earlier in the year when he told him, "No more 'My bad,'" but I believe it was similar to what Belichick does with Brady all the time and what McD used to do. Orton loves the hard work, loves the constant feedback on how to do better, employs every aspect of the teaching that he can in this brief time that he's received it and has become a leader through his examples on the field, in the weight room and in the locker room. Why not look at the results?
Some argue bitterly that the wins aren't in any way due to Orton. I find that incredulous, but purely for argument's sake, OK, fine. Let's just talk about where he is in the league for a moment. Most of these are taken from STATS (http://hosted.stats.com) and NFL.com (http://www.nfl.com). To be as fair as I can, I'm going to start off with some of his comparative weaknesses.
Critics of Orton have claimed many things, but one of these criticisms is that Orton is weaker when throwing the deep ball. Although that's really not the case, he certainly has room to improve on 3rd and long (more than 8 yards). Through week 8, here is where Orton stacks up against the other perceived elite QBs in the game (courtesy of http://hosted.stats.com):
Orton ranks 23rd league-wide. Many factors influence a successful 3rd and long play (blitz, WR routes, play call, score), but it's true that Orton has room for improvement in this area, considering some of the the good QBs who sit atop this category. This statistic also gives clarity to the strategy that the Ravens used against the Broncos: sit on the mid-level curl routes, while zone blitzing.
Another valid critique of Orton this year is his play between mid-field and the the 20 yard line. While his statistics in every other part of the field are of Pro-Bowl caliber, his play in this part of the field has been quite pedestrian (courtesy of NFL.com):
Percentage of passes competed, 4th Q - (T) 9th
QB rating, 4th Q - 2nd
Percentage of completions, 2nd half - 6th
INTs - (T) 1st
Percentage of INTs - 1st (.04%)
TDs passing, 4th Q - (T) 5th
Longest pass completion - 2nd (87)
QB rating, 2nd half - 3rd (110.8)
TD/INT ratio - 1st (9-1)
"All the praise that was lavished last year on Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan — and both players deserved it for leading their teams to the playoffs in their rookie seasons — obscured the fact that too many promising quarterbacks struggle mightily when they get to the NFL. As Exhibits A through F, we offer Alex Smith, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn. All six players came into the NFL within the last five years as first-round draft picks with extraordinary college resumes and lofty expectations. Thus far, they haven't managed to lift their careers off the tarmac. Thus far, they have been busts. Given the history of first-round quarterbacks, maybe we shouldn't be surprised."
And here is what former Raven's coach and current FOX analyst Brian Billick had to say regarding drafting a quarterback while promoting his book More than a Game:
"It's what the numbers have borne out over the last number of years. I wrote that there have been 40- plus quarterbacks taken in the first round since '95. By any stretch of the imagination, 13 or 14 of them have been successful. "We always say it's a 50-50 crap-shoot when you take a quarterback in the first round. Well, it's more like 70-30. Those are the odds. These guys are probably on par with the failures of first-round quarterbacks for the last 20 to 30 years in the NFL." "
"It doesn’t bother me one way or the other. If you are talking good or talking bad, I don’t think they have got a very good idea of what my real job actually is."
"The physical part of most other positions is an absolute necessity," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "Quarterbacks, you can be successful with different types, but I do think they share some things in common. Maybe more than what people typically talk about. They all can run the huddle. They're leaders."
"By and large, a team built on depth is better than a team built on starts and scrubs...you cannot concentrate your salaries on a handful of star players because there is no such thing as avoiding injuries in the NFL. Every team will suffer injuries; the only question is how many. The game is too fast and the players too strong to build a team based around the idea that 'if we can avoid all injuries this year, we'll win.'"
"Don’t be a celebrity quarterback. We don’t need any of those. We need battlefield commanders that are willing to fight it out everyday, every week, and every season, and lead their team to win after win after win."