A Second Helping of…Kyle Orton

Note: Each Monday we take a look at a player the Broncos used in a new, creative, or interesting way in the previous day’s game.  This week we’re getting a second plate of Kyle Orton.

After a game like yesterday, it’s difficult to find anything creative or interesting.  The Ravens shook their tail feathers in the faces of the Broncos all day. 

So when in doubt on whom to focus on today, I decided to go with the guy who threw for 300 yards. 

It’s not Orton’s specific stats that I want to focus on (we’ll get to that in a moment).  It’s something specific he’s doing in the pocket this year that all of the so-called elite quarterbacks do in this league.  On a weekly basis, you’ll see Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees do it.  Ben Roethlisberger (when he’s not spending time in Georgia college towns) probably does it best in the league.

Just what do they do that is so elite?

It’s simple.  They pump fake. 

And that can make all the difference in the world.

Yesterday, just before halftime, on Brandon Lloyd’s long touchdown, you saw Orton make a quick pump fake, and then deliver a perfect bomb.  Somehow, someway, Brandon Lloyd managed to get himself past the safety in a deep zone.

Have you wondered how Lloyd was able to get behind the defense so easily?  Perhaps you assumed that he’s just that fast.  Or perhaps his route running is that smooth.  While Lloyd is both fast and a great route runner, it was Orton that got him open.  That’s because just as Lloyd bent his route inside, Orton pumped like he was going to hit him.  This drew the safety over immediately to close the gap on Lloyd.  Lloyd then turned and continued his fly route.  By the time the ball got there, the safety was well behind the play.

And that’s how fast things can happen in the NFL.  With one pump fake, a defender can jump a route or a zone and get torched - even when they are playing in a very deep zone. 

But don’t take my word for it.  Here was a great description of how effective the pump fake is in the NFL from Sports Illustrated writer Jim Trotter in 2009:

When executed properly, the pump-fake creates passing windows by freezing defensive backs or moving them from one spot to another, much as quarterbacks do with their eyes when they look one way to draw defenders, then throw back to the area that’s been vacated. The pump-fake is employed mostly against zone coverage because cornerbacks are taught to eye the QB in those situations, but it also can be effective in manipulating deep safeties when the corners are in man coverage.

Orton also utilized the pump fake the previous week against the Titans late in the game in order to draw a pass interference call.  So it’s something that Orton is incorporating into his game.  And it’s something we really didn’t see from him last year.

In addition to the pump fake, Orton is also becoming much more adept at looking off the safety.  On Lloyd’s second touchdown near the end of the game yesterday, Orton looked purposely to one side of the field before coming quickly to Lloyd’s side for the bomb and the score.  This allowed Lloyd just enough open space between the corner and the safety.

Orton is on a ridiculous pace to throw for over 5,500 yards.  While it’s equally ridiculous to start making the comparisons between him and Dan Marino, it’s fair to point out a few things starting out this week:

1) Philip Rivers has actually thrown for more than Orton this year.  So he’s on an even more ludicrous pace.  Watch this week and see how Rivers and Orton are being talked about with respect to Marino.  It will tell you a lot about which QB is the media’s favorite.  My guess?  Rivers will be called elite and will stand a real shot at catching Marino.  Orton, for his part, will be called a system quarterback and it will be said that the Broncos have no running game, so Orton really isn’t all that great. 

2) Marino’s record was set in 1984 and that year the Dolphins went 14-2.  Unless the Chargers or Broncos suddenly hit a torrid winning streak, it’s going to be hard to say they had a better year than Marino.  Marino’s two main running backs that year combined for almost 1,200 yards rushing, and further, Marino did what he did in only 564 attempts.  Rivers already has 183 attempts, while Orton has 213.  At those paces, Rivers will throw the ball 586 times and Orton will literally break his arm with 682 attempts. 

But it’s not the yards we care about.  It’s the progression in this offense of Kyle Orton, and specifically, how he looks off the safety and how he uses pump fakes. 

So the next time you see Brandon Lloyd cradle a deep ball for a touchdown, make sure to not only praise Lloyd’s speed and Orton’s arm, but Orton’s smarts as well.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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Second Helpings