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Tales: Who is Kyle Orton?


Things change. In the case of the Broncos, the changes have come fast and have shaken people up. From the moment that Pat Bowlen announced that he'd fired Mike Shanahan, most of our preconceptions about this team have been thrown into the fire. What remains is different from anything we expected about this offseason.

Topping the list has been the situation that resulted in the Cutler trade. Chris Simms was brought in as a highly-paid backup and will now compete for a starting job. Kyle Orton was a rumor and a name that crossed some website - now he's a household name in Denver, and fans debate his background and skill-set with fervor. And there is still the specter of Jay Cutler and what he was able, and not able, to accomplish last season.



In the wake of The Trade, Jay Cutler is going to a very different offensive system. Rationally, we can expect Lovie Smith to try changing the system to take advantage of Jay's admittedly stellar talents, as well as continuing to attempt to polish the rough edges of their new acquisition. Lovie is probably going to establish a vertical passing game of some degree. Jay has shown an unusual ability to throw in inclement weather - since he'll be playing in Soldier Field he's going to need it. While Matt Forte was the primary and capable receiver his rookie year, Cutler doesn't like checkdowns and will probably ask for more of a vertical game. His line will be very different, as will his receivers. For the Broncos, though, last year's offense is what they will be looking to upgrade. Upgrade, without Cutler? Absolutely!

Broncos fans on the Mile High Report have talked extensively and cited many stats that prove, without real question, that the Denver Broncos offense was a paper tiger after week 3 of the 2008 season. Rather than recite the litany, I'm going to accept the conclusions and try to find out where we could go from here.

On the Broncos' side of the equation, we can expect Josh McDaniels to continue doing the same thing for Kyle Orton and Chris Simms that Smith will do for Cutler: polishing them. McDaniels is going to match his quarterback to his offense whichever one it is and  he will train his QBs to take advantage of his offense. Until now, Josh has taken advantage of a passing scheme that stretches the field vertically and horizontally and which uses running attacks heavily aimed at the middle of the line as well as a scheme that employs substantial RB pass-catching. Those things are unlikely to change.

Josh McDaniels was responsible for grooming and developing Matt Cassel from a perennial backup to a player that both McDaniels and GM wunderkind Scott Pioli believe to be a franchise QB. It's a good notch on the resume for Josh and it speaks well of how he'll do with Orton and/or Simms )(as well as any draft choice that we might bring in).


So, who is Kyle Orton? Kyle Raymond Orton was born on November 14, 1982. His father, Byron, played football at South Dakota, so Kyle came by his skills naturally.  As a Denver Bronco he has a dirty secret - he was always a Nebraska fan, growing up.  As a star senior prep student, in Altoona ,Iowa Orton nearly became a Colorado resident.  he even committed to the University of Colorado before a camp for young quarterbacks change his mind.

Coming out of high school, Orton could already throw a football over 72 yards - you could say that at times, his arm strength is underestimated. In fact, Orton out-threw NFL QB Jon Kitna at Purdue's Elite Quarterback Camp in the summer of 2000. Purdue promptly offered Kyle Orton a scholarship to a program that had already produced two NFL quarterbacks. He took them up on it, majoring in history and studying football.

College Years

His studies of history were ironic - the history was that Orton was fated to follow the career of the great Drew Brees at Purdue, and his accomplishments there were sometimes overshadowed by that fact. Even so, in gross numbers, he had 947 attempts for 550 completions and 6,247 passing yards, each good for 5th in the school's history. He passed for 32 touchdowns with only 23 interceptions, at 2.43 interception percentage that left him the Purdue career leader. That accuracy would benefit him well as a pro. He started three bowl games, as did Brees and Mark Hermann before him.

Once Orton enrolled in 2001, coaches were immediately impressed by his poise. Purdue runs a spread-type offense with multiple receivers and a heavy emphasis on the shotgun. As a freshman, Kyle appeared in 7 games with 3 starts. He started in the Sun Bowl vs. Washington State that year, setting a bowl-system record with 83 offensive plays. Orton completed 38 of 74 passing attempts for 419 yards with two touchdowns. It was the most pass attempts in NCAA bowl history.

Said Northern Colorado coach Scott Downing, who was an assistant head coach on Joe Tiller's staff at Purdue at the time, "He went in and just threw the ball over the place. Nothing could rattle him. He was big guy, a tough kid."

Former Bronco middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides was at Purdue when Orton was there. He echoed comments about Orton's attitude.

"He can really sling it," Koutouvides said. "When I was there, he was always a good teammate, always working out, throwing the 7-on-7, doing the extra stuff to make himself better. I have never heard of anyone having an issue with him as a teammate, even when he was in the NFL."

It was the 2003 Capital One Bowl that would leave an indelible impression on those who watched him. He suffered a dislocated thumb, a sprained toe and a cracked rib, but finished the game. His head coach, Joe Tiller, would later call it "one of the two truly courageous performances I've seen in all my years of coaching." That kind of guts has shown up throughout his career at all levels.

By 2004, Orton was garnering national attention with his arm, his intellect and his courage. I can't do better than the Purdue bio webpage:

Named 14th-best player in the nation (No. 2 in the Big Ten) by ESPN The Magazine ... preseason third team All-American and No. 3-ranked quarterback in the nation by Phil Steele's behind Matt Leinart (USC) and Jason White (Oklahoma) ... ranked No. 4 by The Sporting News and Street & Smith's ... preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year by Lindy's and The Sporting News ... named Most Fearless Quarterback in Big Ten by The Sporting News ... tabbed Most Accurate Passer, Strongest Arm and Coolest in the Clutch in Big Ten by Lindy's ... selected Best Passing QB in Big Ten by Street & Smith's.

In his final regular-season college game, Orton threw for 522 yards (33-of-54 passing) and six touchdowns against Indiana (Nov. 20, 2004). He had 401 yards in the first half. The 522 yards tied a school record (held by Drew Brees).  Obviously, his arm is better than some would have us believe. Small wonder that Chicago was glad to select him in the 4th round (pick 106).

Pre-draft Analysis and Scouting Reports

Since Orton was young, raw and didn't fit their system, what might have drawn Chicago to the young player? I obtained three of his pre-draft scouting reports to find out. The first is from ESPN's Draft Tracker:

Pre-draft analysis - Grade 79

Strengths: Has adequate-to-good size. Arm strength is good but not elite. Puts good zip on the deep out route, can drive the ball downfield in the vertical passing game, and can fit the ball into some tight spots in coverage. Shows excellent touch and accuracy when throwing vertically. Has impressive timing and knows how to lead his receivers in stride. He continues to improve his decision making skills. Played in a spread offense where he was forced to read the field, make progressions and check down. Knows how to read defenses and is used to having several options. Really cut down on turnovers and seems to have a much better grasp of the concept of ball control. Isn't a good athlete but pocket presence is above average. Has decent feet and will avoid the rush well from within the pocket.

Weaknesses: Has been inconsistent and streaky throughout his career. Isn't a great athlete. Can scramble from within the pocket but won't pick up many first downs with his feet. He will not be a threat to run in the NFL. He has trouble at times versus the blitz and he doesn't always make sound decisions when under pressure. Elongated delivery is a big concern. He needs to improve his mechanics by getting the ball up and quickening his delivery. He played in a shotgun-spread offense that is extremely passer friendly. How will he adjust to taking snaps under center? Will he struggle to read defenses while dropping? Is he a bit of a system quarterback?

Overall: Orton played in seven games and earned three starts as a true freshman in 2001. He split time as a sophomore in 2002 before developing into a fulltime starter as a junior in 2003, as he started all 13 games and finished with 2,885 yards, completing 60.6-percent of his attempts, with 15 TD's and seven INT's. Orton had more of a roller coaster season as a senior in 2004, as he was one of the "hottest" quarterbacks in the nation for the first half of the season but cooled off in the second half, partially due to a lingering hip injury. Orton finished the season completing 60.7-percent of his attempts for 3,090 yards with 31 TD's and five INT's.

Orton spent a good majority of his time at Purdue working out of the shotgun and he struggled with the adjustment of taking snaps from under center during the Senior Bowl. As was the case with former Purdue star Drew Brees (Chargers), it may take Orton longer to make the transition to the NFL than other quarterbacks that had better experience in a more traditional offense. Orton needs to improve the quickness of his delivery and become much more consistent when put under pressure. Otherwise, Orton has the physical tools and makeup to develop into a solid starter in the NFL. He has the size, arm strength, accuracy and mind that it takes to succeed at the next level. There's no question that Orton is a risky "boom or bust" type of prospect, but he has enough physical tools and was successful enough at the highest level of college football to warrant second round consideration in the 2005 NFL draft.

Len Pasquarelli, also on ESPN, provided the second.

Kyle Orton (Purdue)

Vital statistics: 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, 5.06 in the 40.

Numbers game: Appeared in 44 games and started 35 contests. Completed 236 of 389 passes for 9,337 yards, with 63 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions. Added 271 carries for 316 yards and six touchdowns. A finalist for the Manning Award and for the Davey O'Brien Award. Twice a team captain.

Upside: As evidenced by a 6:1 touchdown pass to interception ratio in 2004, does not make many mistakes with the ball, and is accurate in most areas. Big guy who can see over the pass rush. Knowledgeable about where his receivers are and will make many of his throws to the spot, rather than to the player, with estimable timing. Knows how to take something off the ball when the situation calls for it. Good competitor.

Downside: Played in a quarterback-friendly offense, often works out from the shotgun, and lacks top-shelf arm strength. Has an elongated throwing motion, and throws sidearm way too often, so his basic mechanics will need to be restructured. Footwork is awkward and, when forced to work from under center, is clearly uncomfortable. Too impatient in the pocket and will yank the ball down, try to ad-lib, especially when his top option isn't available to him. Watch him on tape and he looks too programmed. Benched at one point in 2004, after slumping badly, following a 5-0 start. Seemed to lose confidence.

The dish: In the past month or so, has started to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of several teams, and could still be a late first-day selection.

The final report is from Each of these had enough good info that I felt they should be included, verbatim:

Kyle Orton, QB, Purdue Sr 6-4, 233

A true safety-first QB. Will never, ever force a deep ball or anything into double coverage unless it absolutely needs it (just 5 picks in his senior year). He has the field-reading skills of a 10 year NFL vet and can diagnose a blitz instantly, and is happy to sit in against it and make his reads. Good timing is a huge part of his play, especially in the underneath and short-medium range passes. He won't even consider parting with the ball until he is certain his receiver is open, and may be on a par with plenty of NFL quarterbacks when it comes to play action - think ol' Peyton but slightly less polished.

One thing will stick out to NFL scouts - watching him throw a long ball is just plain painful. They're either off target (a long way), underthrown so the receiver has to slow down to a crawl to receive it, or he sits in the pocket so long he gets snapped in two. Another warning sign has to be his benching towards the end of his senior season when it all fell apart rather briskly. One more slight knock is that he played almost all of his college career out of the shotgun spread offense, and will take a long time to adjust to the complexities of an NFL passing scheme.

Pro Potential
Orton is one of those QBs that you just know can be successful in a particular system. In a short to intermediate passing game he could well be a comfortable NFL starter as long as he can adjust to the rigors of the big league.

Best fit

Somewhere in a conservative system with plenty of underneath passes (think the Patriots) where he has a couple of years to learn his trade at a higher level. He gets those two - solid NFL QB in a few years.What isn't being said here, IMHO, is that in Orton's freshman year he was calling a lot of audibles in the offense. He was encouraged to learn them early, and it's left him with a mature ability to change the play at the line when needed. He also has learned to excel in the no-huddle offense.

NFL Career

After Chicago drafted him in the 4th round with pick 104, Orton expected to have time to settle into an offense that was foreign to his training. Instead of a multiple-receiver spread, he was constantly under center in a ball-control offense that was heavy on its running game. Expecting the luxury of a pro-football education, Orton found himself thrown onto the field almost immediately. The Bears' #1 QB, Rex Grossman, went down to injury and their backup floundered. Orton found himself on the field, untrained and unready. His QB rating that year was an anemic 59.7.  He completed 190 passes in 363 attempts, a mere 51.6% completion rate. He wouldn't throw a pass in 2006.


In December of 2007, he returned to the field for the Bears and presided over two thumping wins against one loss. In the first of these three games, on the road against division enemy Minnesota, The Bears lost 20-13. Orton threw 22 completions in 38 attempts for only 184 yards. Orton improved his form in the second game, however, as the Bears thrashed the rival Packers in a 35-3 blowout. But Orton himself was limited to just 9 of 15 for 104 yards: the Bears scored on FGs, special teams, one rushing TD and just 1 by Orton passing. Orton continued to throw well in limited chances the following week in a 33-25 win against the Saints, producing 2 TD against 1 INT and completing 12 of 27 for 190 yards. It was good enough to earn him a competition in 2008 training camp, from which he emerged the Bears starting QB.


Consider this scouting report prior to 2008 from Scouts Inc. What it tells us is worth looking at:

Grade: 64
Alert: None

Comment: Orton is going into his fourth year and has good size and above-average athletic ability. He has a strong arm and can make all the throws. He can fit the ball into tight windows or toss it deep with accuracy. He is more of a pocket passer who has a three-quarter release and can get the ball out relatively quickly. Orton has lots of raw talent. He isn't fleet-of-foot, but has enough foot agility and quickness to move and avoid pressure to make plays downfield. He appears to have matured reading coverages better and taking what the defense gives him rather than forcing the ball when under pressure. He has the tools to be an effective signal caller in the league but isn't a player who can carry a club. He will compete for the starting position in 2008.

Orton didn't just compete for that job; he took the job and ran with it.  In the firs half of 2008 Orton was a hot QB. By the end of that season his completion percentage had dropped for a high of about 61.6% to 58.6%. This told little of the story, though. By now, he'd straightened out a lot of his mechanics. His natural arm strength was tempered by an improved accuracy on many of the throws. His footwork became sound. His ability at reading coverages, which be began to learn his freshman year in college, greatly improved. And, they didn't expect him to be able to carry the club. That's good - there are very few playoff teams who are 'carried' by their QB. For the Broncos to get there, they will need to have the pieces and the schemes beyond the QB in place, but that should be a given.


He was injured midseason; suffering a high ankle sprain in the game against Detroit on November 2.  He took only one game off and fought through the ankle injury despite how it interfered with his mechanics. In fact, I would suggest that 2008's numbers are meaningless unless you note that he played about half the season injured.

His pre-injury stats of 151 completions on 244 passes (61.6%) for 1,777 yards with 10 TD and 4 INT were very good. His QB rating of 90.8 for those games easily exceeds Cutler's  2008 rating of 86.9. But after the injury, the games increasingly went south and so did his numbers. He ended the season with a QB rating of 79.6, an 11.2-point drop.

Was the difference in competition between the two half seasons a factor? In part, maybe. But the Bears played against Tennessee, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Carolina and Tampa Bay, as well as division rivals Minnesota and Detroit in that first span and that's not a weak sister lineup. After watching a lot of film, I have no doubt that the right ankle injury made it impossible to plant and throw off the back foot properly.

Moving Forward

From Purdue

When he was in college, Purdue ran its trademark one-back, multiple wide receiver offense and made defenses cover the entire field. The BoilerMakers ran the ball more than generally perceived - and so did NE. In 2003, Orton's junior year, Purdue ran the ball more than it passed and the 2004 offense was very balanced. The ball was often thrown to the tailbacks on screens and swings to the flat. What is interesting is how closely that mirrors what McDaniels has been doing in NE these past 4 years, allowing for the far greater complexity of the NFL offense, of course. Purdue believed in getting the ball short to its playmakers and allowing them to do just that - make plays. Commonly, that also worked for NE, although with Randy Moss at WR, the ability to stretch the field vertically was constantly available.

Oddly, the Chicago passing attack is nearly the polar opposite of the Purdue approach as well as opposite the approach used by McDaniels at New England. I never quite understood why Chicago was the team that picked Kyle. Chicago believes (or believed, before obtaining Cutler) in a ball-control offense that  preferred using the QB under center, on a power running game (theoretically) and on a dominating defense (hopefully). Despite the questionable fit that Orton must have had there, as well as the violent weather elements swirling in off of Lake Michigan, he went on to win 21 games vs. only 12 losses in his time there. This was particularly impressive since the running game wasn't very good and the defense slipped to 21st in the league.

I like and appreciate stats, but Orton's stats are a great chance to see how easily they can lead you astray. If you take his QB rating since his first game, it really isn't all that good. That's mostly because his early stats were poor.  When he was drafted, the Bears knew that he wasn't ready for the pro game. He was suddenly thrust into the game his freshman season in the NFL despite being a player whose scouting reports begged for time to season. He was tossed into the lineup without proper preparation due to the injury of one QB and the terrible play of another. He sat out his sophomore year.

Yet, each year he has played he's improved markedly. He now has good red-zone numbers, good scoring numbers and his record of wins is substantially better than Cutler or Simms. Cutler, on the other hand, has a lot of yards, lousy scoring numbers and hasn't learned the things that would/could make him one of the best in the league. But the comparison to Cutler here isn't even the point. Orton has done exactly what was predicted when he came out of college. Remember this?

As evidenced by a 6:1 touchdown pass to interception ratio in 2004, does not make many mistakes with the ball, and is accurate in most areas. Big guy who can see over the pass rush. Knowledgeable about where his receivers are and will make many of his throws to the spot, rather than to the player, with estimable timing. Knows how to take something off the ball when the situation calls for it.

This part of his pre-draft evaluation also came out dead on:

As was the case with former Purdue star Drew Brees (Chargers), it may take Orton longer to make the transition to the NFL than other quarterbacks that had better experience in a more traditional offense. Orton needs to improve the quickness of his delivery and become much more consistent when put under pressure. Otherwise, Orton has the physical tools and makeup to develop into a solid starter in the NFL. He has the size, arm strength, accuracy and mind that it takes to succeed at the next level.

All Orton has done is work hard, fix the mechanics that plagued him in college and in his early career and maximize his skill-set. That speaks to something else that's been in short supply in Denver lately - he learns, matures into the position and has continued to improve and develop. He is accurate - far more so than most of us, myself included, thought. Also, the ability to throw a touch pass has been sorely lacking in Denver, and we will welcome that change.  Orton will welcome a better running game and better receivers.


Orton is especially going to welcome being on the field with Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokley - and maybe Stokley most of all., given the Bears distant acquaintance with the slot receiver functions. I rarely saw anyone go over the middle in Chicago. I even wondered unkindly if they had heard of a slot receiver at one point while breaking down film.

Josh McDaniels broke down a lot film of him from last year. I have to wonder if he may also have looked at various times in his career and seen that improvement growing. Josh has noted that much what he wants a QB to do fits with Orton's abilities. Like many others, I'm not interested in giving Kyle the job right now. I like and believe in Chris Simms and I think that he, too, can start in this offense. But Orton is a lot better than I once thought - and that is partly because he's gotten better than he once was. 

Professional Growth

Consider this, too: Understanding why McDaniels is excited about Kyle's presence on the team is in part a matter of looking back to see why he struggled earlier on. His negative pre-draft analysis was pretty specific:


Has been inconsistent and streaky throughout his career. Isn't a great athlete...He needs to improve his mechanics by getting the ball up and quickening his delivery.


Has an elongated throwing motion, and throws sidearm way too often, so his basic mechanics will need to be restructured. Footwork is awkward and, when forced to work from under center, is clearly uncomfortable.

But when TedBartlett905 broke down his film from last year, this is what he saw: 

"I really like Orton's footwork, and I always hated Cutler's.  Orton's feet are spaced very nicely, and there's bounce in his dropback.  He looks really similar to Peyton Manning in the lower body.  By staying on the balls of his feet, he's able to turn square to his target, and get his lower body into the throw, something which he (like Manning) obviously needs to do... Orton's overall throwing accuracy is much-improved over his rookie year.  He completed 58.5% of his throws this past season, compared to 51.6% as a rookie, and 53.8% as a third year player.  (He took no snaps in 2006, his second season.)" 

TedB also gave us this from another of his now-legendary ST&NO:

"In this highlight package, you can see Orton hit on slants, deep outs, fades and crossing patterns, but what I was really impressed with was his touch on deep throws.  This used to be his weakness, but he's vastly improved his skills in this area.  He shows a lot of skill in dropping the ball over the top of the CB, and outside of the S against Cover-2 looks.  That's something which neither of our last 2 QBs had much skill at.  One of the keys to the McDaniels offense is challenging the deep outside, and I am confident that Orton has the skill set to do it."

The Chicago media was higher on Cutler than some of the fans. Take a look at this piece from the Chicago Tribune, dated October 20 of 2008:

That mentality has helped the Bears thrive. In the last three games, Orton has completed 71 of 109 passes for 903 yards with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 106.2 passer rating.

"We feel that he's turned into one of the top guys in the league," said tight end Greg Olsen. "Besides the physical tools and being able to make all the throws, he's a guy with total command of the game plan and the offense. He gets us in and out of good plays.

The coaches put a lot on him, sending him to the line with a couple of options and relying on him to make the right decision, and for the most part he almost always does.

In Sunday's win, Orton completed 21 of 32 passes for 283 yards with 2 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.5 passer rating. The former Purdue star easily could have had three more TD passes, but Marty Booker dropped two throws in the end zone and Desmond Clark fumbled at the 1-yard line.(Note: That's the Broncos own Desmond Clark who, with Greg Olsen, has become one of the Bears leading TE since arriving in 2003)

"I don't think we have any egos on our offense," Orton said. "It's a group effort. That's how we treat it at practice, that's how we treat it in games. It doesn't matter if we're getting cheered, if we're getting booed, whatever the case is. It's 11 guys in there together trying to get it done, and it's a great feeling out there."

Operating a no-huddle offense at times throughout Sunday's game, Orton completed at least two passes to seven different receivers. Of his 21 completions, nine went to tight ends, eight were caught by receivers and four went to running backs.

"When that ball's flying around and we're going no-huddle, we've got a team on its heels, and it's fun," Olsen said. "We feel like we're in total control of dictating to them, dictating what they can do to us, and that's a good feeling."

The Denver Post added this:

"Check out the three-week stretch of statistics directly before his injury: 301.0 passing yards per game, five touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 106.2 rating. And that was while playing quarterback for defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith.

"Not taking anything away from a defensive head coach," Orton said. "That's what they know, that's their passion, and that's what they're going to coach toward. I know we were safe a lot of times in Chicago. There were a lot of game situations where we played it pretty safe and let our special teams and defense win it."

If Orton is struggling now, it's containing his enthusiasm at the prospect of playing for an offensive-minded coach such as McDaniels. The Broncos' system will ask its quarterback to throw oodles of high-percentage passes a game, mostly from the shotgun formation.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Orton has downsides, no question. He tends to throw a flat pass at times and has them tipped at the line. He will still fall into that sidearm motion at times. He can hold the ball too long, although if he gets receivers open that may diminish. He shouldn't be asked to make certain long passes, although he does well on others. But if you add up strength and weaknesses, both of which you find in all QBs, his overall package is excellent.

For example, John Madden, during the Philly game, noted that the closer you get to the goal line, the better Kyle Orton is. He meant that Kyle can make all the throws in the shortened field. It really plays to his strengths, and after our poor numbers in the red zone with Cutler, that may be a welcome relief. In the red zone, Cutler had only a 46.6% completion rate and a QB rating of 76.1.

Orton, with a lessor offensive team around him, had a QB rating of 96.0, better numbers on his TD rating and threw an interception only 1.69% of the time as opposed to Cutler's 4.76 (red zone numbers provided courtesy of nycbroncosfan). If you thought that a lot of drives ended in interceptions - well, they did. Give the man a little more time and an open receiver and he can make any throw up to about 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. He didn't have either - time or the receivers, all too often, but he still managed to do what good QBs do - he produced.

He's also courageous. He has a (bad) tendency to not slide when he runs with the ball. He throws a pretty good block for the quarterback. He plays injured and never complains. He's really a blue collar sort of quarterback,  the perfect kind for an orange and blue team.

Dodging Bullets

Sacks were a constant problem for Orton last year: pressure and hurries were also incessant. I know that I talk a lot about the Denver line. The more of Chicago's that I saw, the more I decided that I'm going to talk about them, too. I saw two INTs in two weeks that were coverage/blitz INTs - one was tipped by one of multiple, unobstructed blitzers or he was screened by having 3 guys in his face and trying to get the screen pass off. Kyle's not that immobile - the line has to play better. John Tait was a constant problem., too, but he wasn't alone.

The coaching didn't help Orton very much.  They almost never used Orton on a bootleg (when he was healthy), never on play action - Other than the no-huddle, used sparingly never backed off the blitz. The play-calling often seemed rudimentary and didn't do things that seemed simple to protect the QB. I hope that they do better for Cutler.

By the way, watching Orton run the no-huddle gave me a lot of respect for the man. Whoever McDaniels chooses to run the offense in Denver will have to have skill at making reads and audible adjustments. Orton definitely has those skills.

Watching him carve up Philadelphia like a Thanksgiving turkey in Week 4 was enlightening.  He threw 3 TD passes in the 1st half against a pretty good Philly defense. He really does excel in that red zone - he also used the no-huddle very effectively to control the blitz.. Orton was sacked 4 times, hit 4 times more, knocked down 3 times and had 2 batted balls. That was in just the 1st half plus 10 minutes of the Philadelphia game. He still came up with 3 TD passes in that time.  That was pretty good, considering how he was pummeled:. During that same time he was 16/29, for 178 and 3 TD with 2 interceptions.

That Philly defense had handed the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger his head the week before, so they were no slouches. It's fair to say that Orton needs a better ‘clock' in his head to get rid of the ball - that's a coaching issue - but it's also true that he was not getting much help. Let the guy roll out,  let's see how he does on bootlegs and let him get into the full role of a QB. From everything that I saw, we're going to like what we get.

The injury at mid-season to his ankle changed his performance. You could see the difference in Orton's mechanics immediately and throughout the rest of the season. It was a high-ankle injury, and it really slowed him. He became even more of a target to opposing blitzers and his accuracy was severely hampered. The stats don't really matter after that point - it was impressive just to watch him fighting for every play, hobbling to the line of scrimmage and never complaining. If the Chicago defense hadn't given up TDs in the 4th quarter, he would have had more wins. Given the difficult road that his tenure in Chicago endured, his record of 21-12 says it all.

Looking Ahead

In the final analysis, the measure of a QB is going to be how many wins he was involved with.  In later years, no one but the toughest fans talk about how the defense faltered against Atlanta, or how badly they were out-coached in this or that game. It's unfair at times, but there's a reason for it. Good QBs find ways to win. It's the measurement of the position. There are a precious few like Marino who remake the record books on sheer throwing ability, but even they would gladly trade 5000 or 10,000 yards for the glitter of a Super Bowl ring.

Next year isn't going to be easy. Putting in a new offense takes time, effort and discipline. The Broncos are also remaking the defense. Players will come and go, and the coaches will have to find the ones who absolutely are not going to let this team lose.  Wins will have to be earned. The old proverb "The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel" never rang more true than it does now. The players who see in this a golden opportunity are the ones who will create those wins.

"Taking nothing away from my days in Chicago, but this is an offense that a quarterback can thrive in," Orton said. "Hopefully, I can take the next step in my career and become a top-level quarterback in this league."

This is his biggest challenge and his best chance. Opinions vary.  As far as top-level QBs go, for my money he already is.