Denver Broncos: How Far Can Kyle Orton Take This Team?

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Denver Broncos: How Far Can Kyle Orton Take This Team?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Though not as polarizing as his backup, Kyle Orton has plenty of detractors and some staunch supporters. Is his criticism justified, or is Orton under-appreciated?


Kyle Orton is one of the most under-appreciated figures in the NFL today. Lately, it seems that if a player isn’t a prototypical franchise quarterback, fans act like he has no value.

And it’s not just the fans. Decent quarterbacks are shuffled around the league all the time simply because they aren’t “the guy” and the franchise is eager to find somebody who is.

Well, obviously not every team can have a franchise quarterback. And though it’s without question the most important position, there have been a few teams who have gone as far as winning a Super Bowl with decidedly average QBs. Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson come to mind. Their teams were able to mask their shortcomings with exceptional talent elsewhere.

How does a team acquire that talent? By not mortgaging draft picks for potential franchise QBs
that don’t pan out. And a fair amount of luck.

So many teams constantly shuffle QBs trying to make somebody fit instead of waiting until they find somebody who does. In the end, the team is left in a sort of football purgatory as the cycle of mediocrity continues to reset each time a new QB is installed, until one finally works out.

How many potential Super Bowl contenders have missed their opportunity because they tried so hard to find the perfect quarterback that the rest of their roster fell apart or the lack of continuity at the position ruined team chemistry?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Zane Beadles and Ryan Clady give Orton time move around in the pocket

For an example of a solid team ruined by lack of quarterback continuity, look no further than the Miami Dolphins.

I’m not saying a team doesn’t need a franchise QB. I’m saying that the quarterback is not the only factor in determining who wins or loses a game. The better the surrounding team, the less you need your franchise QB to do.

Look at New England: Tom Brady is obviously a franchise QB and perhaps the best quarterback in the league. But last season, he wasn’t asked to make a lot of difficult throws at all and the Patriots offense was largely based on short, high-percentage passes that don’t require otherworldly talent.

For all of the above reasons, Kyle Orton is severely under-appreciated. Orton doesn’t have that elite talent, but if he was in a system like New England’s, he would thrive. Instead of trying to figure out whether to go with Tim Tebow—who I personally don’t feel can be considered a franchise QB—or Orton, the Broncos should worry about improving the team as a whole.

Orton’s skill set will never allow him to win games on his own, but he won’t prevent them from being won either.

Yet some fans act as if it is solely Orton’s fault the Broncos went 4-12 in 2010. The thing is, Orton is a better quarterback than either Dilfer or Johnson, or even some other past Super-Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Thus, no matter how unrealistic the possibility, there is no reason to bench Orton until the Broncos are out of contention. Not when worse quarterbacks than he have led teams to football’s promised land.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
If the Ravens could reach the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer, Kyle Orton has reason for optimism

So when will that point come? How far exactly can Orton lead the Broncos? Orton’s limitations are that he struggles in the red zone—which can be helped by the addition of Willis McGahee and better red zone play-calling—and while under pressure.

When he isn’t under duress, Orton is actually an above average signal-caller. On plays in which he faced no pressure last year, Orton’s completion percentage was a decent 62 percent with a 16:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, according to profootballfocus.com. When he was feeling the pressure, though, Orton’s accuracy dipped to 49.2 percent with a 4:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

So we know what Orton’s weaknesses are. He will never be the type of quarterback who can be relied upon to make plays himself and thrive in the face of pressure. Playoff defenses almost always boast efficient pass rushers and so Orton will never be able to get to the big game…on his own.

Only Peyton Manning seems to have that ability though.

So the question is not how far Orton can carry the team, because, well, that’s not very far. Instead, the question should be how far this team can take Orton. If the Broncos struggle to protect Orton, they will struggle as a team. If Orton receives great protection, he’s more than capable of reading the field, making good throws and continuing to win as long as the team is playing great.

Can Kyle Orton lead a team--any team--to a playoff win?

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It’s amazing that Broncos fans can be so concerned with the quarterback position that little regard is even given to arguably the worst defense in the NFL. Truthfully, Brady or Manning would find it difficult to succeed in Denver right now.

That’s why the focus should be on improving the team as a whole: fixing the defense, gelling the young offensive line and things like that. As the Broncos steadily improve, Orton will have to do less and less and be able to take the team farther and farther. Then, just like the 2009 Jets did with Mark Sanchez, the Broncos can wait until they are in a position to make their move for a franchise QB who can step right in to a team that’s a perennial contender.

Until then, a couple seasons of Orton keeping the seat warm is just fine.

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