Denver Broncos 2011: 5 Reasons Kyle Orton Could Lead Broncos to the Playoffs
Now before everybody goes crazy over the headline of this article, the keyword is could, not should.
However, unlike those teams, the Broncos actually have a chance at making it to the playoffs. Is it a long shot? Yes. Have bigger miracles happened before in the past? Yes.
The Chiefs had a QB who was thought of as nothing more than mediocre, an offensive line featuring two past-their-prime players and a defense that was nothing special in years past.
The Chiefs ended up winning the AFC West after leading the race the entire season. The Chargers ended up missing the playoffs for the first time in five years.
The point is that anything can happen. Nobody is expecting anything from the Broncos this season, and although media pundits expect the Broncos to be better than the 4-12 team they were last year, Denver is still expected to finish last in the division in 2011, as it did in 2010.
I don't expect Denver to finish last in the division again. For a franchise that has been one of the winningest franchises in the NFL since Pat Bowlen took over the in the '80s, it's hard to envision the Broncos doing so poorly this year.
Kyle Orton is the Broncos' starting QB entering the season, and although there's a good chance he could lose the job in the middle of the season if the Broncos lose a few games, for now he's the starting QB and, in John Fox's mind, the best option at QB the Broncos have right now.
Here are five reasons why Orton could lead the Broncos to the playoffs in 2011.
This is a simplistic, yet legit answer.
John Fox is a proven head coach in the NFL who has led a team to the Super Bowl. To make it even more impressive, he did it in his second season coaching the Panthers, a year after they had gone 7-9 and two years after they had gone 1-15.
Kyle Orton will not win you games. He's very good at what he's best at: managing games.
You know the type of QBs that excel in Fox's offense? Game managers.
Jake Delhomme was a quarterback very similar to Orton in terms of skill set. Both are guys who aren't very mobile, they've had problems in the past with fumbling, they don't have strong arms and they don't have much zip in their passes.
However, despite Delhomme's physical limitations, the Panthers were a successful team under his lead, due to a great supporting cast that featured great rushing attacks and a great defense.
In Delhomme's seven years in Carolina, the Panthers went to the playoffs three times, were in the NFC Championship game twice and were in the Super Bowl once.
If Denver's rushing attack consisting of Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee can break into the top 10 in terms of rushing, and the defense can at least be above average, it would be the perfect recipe for the Broncos to make it to the playoffs.
The Broncos Play in the AFC West
The Broncos play in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL.
Of all eight divisions, the AFC West was sixth in terms of winning percentage, ahead of only the AFC North and NFC West.
The Chiefs, despite winning the division in 2010, seem to be on the way down. The Raiders—after the firing of Tom Cable, the loss of the second best cornerback in the league in Nnamdi Asomugha and the strong dependency upon Darren McFadden—don't look like a .500 team entering the season.
That only leaves the Chargers as a team that looks scary on paper.
Once again, the key phrase is on paper.
It wouldn't be inconceivable to see the Broncos contend with the Chargers for the majority of the regular season for AFC West supremacy, as they did from 2006-2009.
An Improved Defense
The Broncos will be better than they were on defense in 2010. That much is certain. It can't get any worse.
Denver was 32nd in points allowed, 31st in rushing yards given up, 25th in passing yards given up and 24th in passing TDs given up.
You know what makes the passing statistics even worse? Denver only gave up 502 pass attempts all season. That was fifth best in the NFL. Yet, despite opposing teams passing so little on the Broncos, the Broncos managed to give up so many yards per attempt that Denver ended up ranking 24th in pass defense.
Oh yeah, did I mention the Broncos finished last in sacks forced?
With the return of 2009 sack leader Elvis Dumervil, the arrivals of rookies Von Miller and Rahim Moore and the acquisition of Brodrick Bunkley at defensive tackle, Denver, with the leadership of coach Fox, should be a threat on the defensive side of the ball in 2011.
The Tight Ends
This is an underrated, yet important facet of this Broncos offense.
What does a smart coach do when he knows his quarterback is physically limited? He relies heavily upon the tight end.
What does a smart quarterback do when he knows his own limitations? He has a safety blanket. That safety blanket tends to be the tight end.
Kyle Orton does not have a strong arm and he is not an amazingly accurate passer. The Broncos don't have elite tight ends at their disposal, though it is better than it was in 2010 under Josh McDaniels.
Denver has two tight ends capable of contributing in the passing game in Daniel Fells and Julius Thomas.
Fells had 41 receptions last season for the Rams, ranking fourth on the team. Julius Thomas is a former college basketball player, who at 6'5" and 255 pounds may be a potential sleeper in this offense. Denver has tried this before with players that have similar backgrounds to Thomas, such as Wesley Duke in 2005.
Compare this to the tight end situation of 2010, that featured the likes of Richard Quinn, Daniel Graham and Dan Gronkowski.
Quinn was one of the biggest second-round draft busts in Broncos history, totaling one reception for nine yards in his illustrious two-year Broncos career.
Graham was a good blocker, but that's about it. He contributed 18 receptions for 148 yards with zero TDs.
Denver tried to make up for its lack of pass catching threats at the tight end position by keeping Gronkowski on the roster, but he proceeded to make a minimal impact. His final season stats: eight receptions for 65 yards and zero TDs.
Denver, in its prolific offensive years under the leadership of Mike Shanahan, always utilized the tight end heavily in the gameplan. Whether it was Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, Desmond Clark, Dwayne Carswell or Jeb Putzier, the Broncos always had a prolific pass-catching tight end.
What did that result in?
Twelve non-losing seasons in a 14-season span.
In order for Denver to be efficient in the passing game, the tight ends need to be a factor.
The Offensive Line Will Be Adequate
You know how everybody attributes Denver's miserable season to the lack of a running game and the terrible defense?
What's lost in that shuffle was the subpar play of the offensive line—not only in run blocking, but in pass blocking.
You know what happens when a team can't run the football and it has a quarterback who isn't a threat to run? They drop everybody back in coverage.
Football is a team sport and everything is a chain reaction.
Almost every time the Broncos threw the football, it was expected they were going to throw the football.
Because of Denver's terrible run blocking early on in the season that resulted in a lot of 3rd-and-longs, the Broncos were left to run a lot of seven-step drops in the passing game.
What does that mean?
Denver started two rookie offensive lineman in J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles. Ryan Harris was out for half of the season and Ryan Clady was out for a large period of time.
Denver plugged linemen in and out at different positions, not starting its "true" offensive line until the last half of the regular season.
You factor the injury equation with rookies starting. You factor in that equation with the 3rd-and-longs. You factor in the 3rd-and-longs with the seven-step drops resulting in the defense dropping back in coverage resulting in lots of sacks, due to the predictable nature of the play calling.
Denver was 21st in sacks allowed in 2010.
Denver last made the playoffs in 2005. From '03-'05, these were Denver's rankings in the sacks-allowed department:
2003: 25 sacks allowed; fifth best in the NFL
2004: 15 sacks allowed; third best in the NFL
2005: 23 sacks allowed; third best in the NFL
Denver made the playoffs all three years.
With an offensive line that is now experienced, Kyle Orton should have more time to throw the football and find his receivers resulting in a more efficient offense.
Hopefully it'll result in a playoff berth.