|10-17-2009, 03:06 PM||#1|
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Join Date: May 2003
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Orton says he's thrilled with Broncos
By Tod Leonard
Union-Tribune Staff Writer
Quarterback Jay Cutler's demand to be traded out of Denver was the NFL's greatest offseason soap opera that didn't involve Brett Favre or a court room. Cutler had been the heir apparent to John Elway, but his distaste for a new coaching regime doomed his future with the Broncos.
So Denver jettisoned him in a trade with Chicago, and all of the chatter was about Cutler getting a fresh start. Nobody seemed to care much about what it meant to Kyle Orton, the Bears quarterback who was the other major piece of the deal.
Orton, it turns out, was as thrilled as Cutler to be moving on.
“I was extremely excited when I got the call,” Orton recalled this week. “I thought this was a great chance, personally, to jump-start the second half of my career.”
Orton's jump-start has produced a jolt to the Broncos' fortunes. After their late-season collapse of last year with Cutler at the helm, Denver has unexpectedly burst to a 5-0 start under new head coach Josh McDaniels as it moves into Monday night's matchup with the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
A swarming defense has been critical to winning, but Orton has played his part, mostly doing what he does best, which is not put the Broncos in position to lose.
“He's smart; he understands what we do,” McDaniels said. “There are no limitations in terms of him running our offense. He gets better every week.”
To understand Orton's joy at coming to Denver is to appreciate his previous circumstance. In Chicago, he was a handoff machine in a plodding, run-first offense. The former Purdue passer, who once tied Drew Brees' school record for passing yards in a game with 522, played 20 games for the Bears in which he had 150 or fewer yards throwing. Only one time in 33 games over four years did Orton pass for more than 300 yards; Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has done that twice this season.
That's not what any quarterback envisions in his NFL dreams.
In McDaniels, Orton, 26, inherited a mentor, only seven years his senior, who is challenging him like never before. Previously, McDaniels ran New England's juggernaut offense, and the coach proved last year that it wasn't all about Tom Brady when Matt Cassel, who hadn't started a game since high school, guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record.
McDaniels has undertaken a complete demolition of former head coach Mike Shanahan's “West Coast” offense, converting to the Patriots' spread offense that often employs the shotgun, one running back and three receivers. The “spread” creates seams in the defense, and it's the skill players' job to exploit them.
Many of the passes in the spread are short check-offs, and Orton has effectively embraced the role. Already, in four of his five games with the Broncos he has passed for more than 240 yards. He has seven touchdown passes and his only interception came on a Hail Mary attempt.
Orton enjoyed arguably the finest game of his career in last week's 20-17 overtime win over visiting New England. He notched career highs in attempts (48) and completions (35) while throwing for 330 yards (4 short of his career best) and two touchdowns.
Orton led two touchdown marches of at least 10 plays and 90 yards, including a 12-play, 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter that culminated in an 11-yard TD throw to Brandon Marshall that tied the game. In overtime, he connected on his first four attempts and led the Broncos to the winning field goal.
The quarterback has been a killer in the fourth quarter. Orton's passer rating in that period is 138.7, No. 2 in the league, with three fourth-quarter TD passes and no interceptions.
In beating New England, Orton connected with six different receivers, including seven catches by the tight end position, and he completed four passes to rookie running back Knowshon Moreno.
“Our offense changes from week to week,” Orton said. “We don't hang our hat on one thing. We try to be good at different things and find the thing that is going to work that week.”
Orton has been dubbed a “game manager” by some. Not a very flattering label, and one that makes McDaniels bristle. But Orton, who owns an impressive 26-12 starting record, doesn't seem to mind.
“That's my No. 1 job description as a quarterback is to manage the game,” Orton said earlier this season. “It's tough to win games if you beat yourself.”