Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this any better if it had tried.
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After a 1-4 start, Team A (Denver) decides to make a change at the quarterback spot. After another five weeks go by, with the new quarterback’s (Tim Tebow) record standing at 4-1, Team A decides to send the former starting quarterback (Kyle Orton) packing and he ends up signing with Team B, a division rival (Kansas City).
Fast forward to Week 17. Team A (Denver) needs one win to make the playoffs. The only thing standing in its way is Team B (Kansas City) and the former scorned quarterback (Orton) that Team A gave up on. At 6-9, all that Team B and said scorned quarterback really have to play for is … revenge.
If there’s one thing I know all too well it’s the feeling that Kyle Orton is going through this week. He wants to show the Broncos they made a mistake, I can promise you that. He definitely has something to prove as I can speak from experience. After spending 11 seasons with Tampa Bay, I was released in 2003. I signed with Denver the following season and we went to Tampa in Week 4 and I wanted to show the Bucs that letting me go was the worst mistake they ever made. There was a lot of motivation there on my part. I played pretty well (7 tackles) and we ended up winning 16-13. I don’t think I slept a wink the night before that game. I don’t know if I was that nervous for the Super Bowl.
So Orton’s motivation will be there. But, I think it’s interesting how the perception of Orton has changed. Earlier in his career when he was with Chicago, he was thought of as a guy who just won games. It wasn’t always pretty, but his teammates liked him and they thought he was a winner. He’s got a big arm and I think he’s a great play-action passer, who has relied on his running game being productive. The problem in Denver was he didn’t win. After a 6-0 start with the Broncos, Orton won only six of his next 27 games to finish with a 12-21 record as the Denver starter. Whether it was Kyle’s fault or the team’s fault, it doesn’t really matter. They just didn’t get it done.
Should we feel sorry for him? No. He did make $9 million in 2011. Were his feelings hurt? Most definitely. I think a lot of it has to do with the situation around him. In Kansas City, they have a banged-up team. But I’ll tell you the Chiefs are very capable, so the Broncos better come to work.
And this week, I can tell you is just like a playoff game. Everybody in Denver, from John Elway to John Fox has said so. As a player, you’re confident, but you also know you’ve had your ups and downs if it’s coming down to the last game of the season to make the playoffs. Good thing for the Broncos that they’re playing at home.
Who has more to prove, Orton or Tebow?
There are two completely different motivations and mindsets working here. Obviously, the Chiefs are already out of the playoffs, so Orton is going to have the "I’ll-show-them" attitude, while the Broncos have a lot more to play for with the playoffs on the line.
Who has a bigger advantage, the Broncos’ defense because they know Orton, or Orton because he knows the Broncos defense?
It’s always interesting. Although it wasn’t a normal training camp this offseason because of the lockout, I think the Denver defense might have a little advantage. It’s one guy going up against an entire defense, so I think having gone up against Orton in training camp, you have 11 guys – plus a coaching staff — who know his tendencies. They know his strengths and what he struggles with. I remember when I was with Tampa and people were saying that Jon Gruden gave us all of the Raiders’ plays in the Super Bowl. But we had gone against the offensive scheme in practices.
But Orton has played well for the Chiefs. In his two starts, Kansas City handed Super Bowl champion Green Bay its only loss of the season and then barely lost to Oakland, 16-13 in overtime. His stat line reads very Kyle Orton like: 44-for-67 for 599 yards with a TD pass and two interceptions. Might not have been all that pretty, but he got it done against the Packers and nearly did against the Raiders.
Now for the game plan:
The Broncos have had trouble stopping the run the last three weeks in their nickel package, where five defensive backs are used in normal, obvious passing situations. In the last three weeks (Chicago, New England and Buffalo), the Broncos have given up 92, 114 and 103 yards when that defensive package has been employed. Not good.
In that situation, the Broncos were going with three down lineman and three linebackers, while moving Von Miller, who leads the team in sacks with 11.5, to a stand-up defensive end. Late in the game against the Bills, Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen went one step further and took Miller out of the lineup, going with four linemen down, two linebackers and five defensive backs.
And although it seemed to work against the Bills in the fourth quarter, I would say the Broncos need to find a way to keep their best defensive player on the field. Miller is a difference maker. He’s the most impactful player on their defense and they need to leave him on the field.
I know this might sound generic, but the Broncos need to stop the run. So you stack the box. You know, there’s an old saying that goes, you have to earn the right to rush the passer. You have to put yourself in those situations. Another key in helping to stop the run would be if safety Brian Dawkins (neck injury) can play. The Broncos have used him at the line of scrimmage and he’s terrific at helping stop the run, so if he plays that will be big.
Orton’s favorite target has clearly been Dwayne Bowe, who has 10 catches in Orton’s two starts. Problem solved. Even though he’s in his 13th season, you take perennial Pro Bowl safety Champ Bailey (a 10-time All-Pro) and you put him on Bowe. You tell Champ to cancel No. 82 out. Knowing him, he’ll rise to the task; he always plays his best in big games.
Then you tell Miller, Elvis Dumervil and the rest of the Broncos defense that it’s their time to step up. I think teams are starting to figure Tebow out, so you put the onus on the defense. If you want to get to the playoffs, that’s what the defense needs to do. It’s not like the Chiefs score a lot of points. Kansas City is 31st in the NFL in scoring (13.7) and in Orton’s two starts they’ve scored 19 and 13 points.
So as far as Orton goes, Broncos coach Fox said this: "I know we made that decision (releasing Orton in November in favor of Tebow). As I would say of anything looking forward, time will tell."
The time is now. This Sunday to be exact – for Tebow and the Broncos.