Last week following the Broncos' loss to the Ravens, my parents and I went on a walk. It was a beautiful day in suburban Littleton and I don't think any of us really felt like watching football anymore.
Up the street and around the corner we went, and as we walked we made our way through as much small talk as possible. How my grades were in school, how my car was running, how many trick or treaters they had on Halloween, and basically anything else that gave us an excuse to talk about something.
Eventually though, as it always does, the conversation steered back towards the Broncos and we were once again wallowing in the pain of our favorite team's defeat.
This isn't unusual in my family, in fact I think it may even be biological for Schaffer men. My grandpa, my dad, and now I all get heated and start brooding whenever the Broncos don't win. No matter how good everything else in our lives may be going, it's enough to ruin our entire day. It just does. There's no fighting it.
On the flip side, though we may take this a little too seriously, we can almost always identify the reasons why the Broncos lost. As we were walking back down towards our house, I turned to my dad and said, "You know, I really like Kyle Orton, but he's not a game changing quarterback. He's a good game manager, but he doesn't make a lot of plays."
My dad nodded in agreement and said, "Things have to be going well around him. He can't put the team on his back and win a game."
Last night's loss to the Steelers was only further proof that we are right. In fact, it was like watching a mirror image of the game against the Ravens, at least from the offensive side of the ball. The Broncos once again struggled mightily to move the ball and Orton never looked comfortable in the pocket.
It always hurts to speak negatively of your team's quarterback, especially seeing as how Kyle Orton was enjoying the best season of his career before the past two games.
Granted, not all of the blame can be placed on Orton. The Ravens and Steelers both thoroughly overwhelmed the Broncos offensive line, disrupting their rhythm and causing Orton to make decisions quicker than he would've liked. The running game has been almost non-existent and the play calling has been pathetically predictable.
However, most of these issues can be derived from the limitations of Kyle Orton as a quarterback, especially the play calling. While Josh McDaniels' offensive scheme is designed as a short passing system, you rarely see the Broncos take the shots down the field that you see constantly from Tom Brady. Either Orton can't make those throws, or McDaniels doesn't trust him enough to try.
The protection issues and running game struggles could both use tune-ups from the players at those positions, but they are also negatively affected by the Broncos' lack of a downfield passing game. Opposing defenses stack the box against the run and blitz heavily because they simply aren't afraid of getting burned deep with a pass.
Jon Gruden made a good point last night during the game when he said that a big reason Orton's interception total is so low is because the game-plan McDaniels makes for him is one of very low risk and low reward. Orton will rarely ever try to force something down the field and the plays that are called aren't designed for him to do so anyway.
The Broncos mostly got away with this earlier in their season, but Baltimore and Pittsburgh each had two weeks to prepare for them and then successfully blew up the offense's conservative approach. They took away the things that had worked well for Orton and dared him to beat them with his arm. When the moment of truth was at hand, he came up short every time.
Does this suddenly mean that the offense is bad and that Orton's early season play was a fluke? Not at all. The Broncos have enough talent to beat all the bad teams on their schedule and they should be able to at least compete in some of those harder games, given that they make a few adjustments.
Unfortunately, good teams need to do more than just handle the teams they are supposed to beat. They need to rise to the occasion and win big games against teams that are equally as good, and to do that they need their best players to come through for them. Credit Bill Belichick and McDaniels all you want, but the Patriots have been so good for so long because Tom Brady thrives in situations like that.
With half of their season over, the Broncos have a good idea of what they have at quarterback in Kyle Orton. To survive their schedule with a spot in the playoffs still intact, it may be time to start asking him to stretch himself beyond his limitations. The Broncos' season, and Orton's future with them, may depend on it.