Kyle Orton has faced off against Peyton Manning three straight seasons. For his career, Orton is 1-1 against the Colts, but 0-1 as a Bronco. He started the 2008 opener against Indianapolis while wearing a Chicago Bears uniform and came away with a 29-13 victory. He lost to Manning and company as Denver's quarterback in Week 14 in 2009.
Orton has worked his way through an interesting career since he was drafted out of Purdue in the fourth round (106th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. He started 15 games as a rookie after starter Rex Grossman went down with an injury. Even though he went 10-5 in those starts, he was still considered a career back-up and classic game manager, finishing with a quarterback rating of 59.7, averaging a meager 5.1 yards per passing attempt, and throwing only nine touchdown passes against ten interceptions.
Grossman started all 16 regular season games in 2006 -- Orton remained on the roster as the third string quarterback behind Grossman and Brian Griese -- and it appeared as though the depth chart at the position was going to force Orton out. He hung on with the team, started three games during a turbulent 2007 season in which all three quarterbacks on the roster got a start, and seemed to be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as Grossman was going to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2007 season.
This chapter started the official resurgence of Orton's career, where he cast aside the feeling that the other shoe was going to drop any minute, shaved his tragic neck beard, and dedicated himself to becoming the starting quarterback. The Bears signed Grossman to a one-year deal prior to the start of the 2008 season, but Orton surprised critics by winning the starting job outright. He was no longer the starter by default, he had actually gone out and won the job.
In his first season as the unquestioned starter, Orton struggled to shake the "game manager" moniker that had plagued him since his rookie season. He finished 2008 with under 3,000 yards passing and a 79.6 passer rating, though he did also post a 9-6 record. Where his fortunes truly changed was in the offseason, when the Bears shipped Orton to Denver as part of the Jay Cutler trade. Orton was named the starter early on in offseason activities and had a chance to assimilate the offense.
In 2009, he posted career highs in completion percentage (62.1), attempts (541), completions (336), yards per attempt (7.0), touchdowns (21), and quarterback rating (86.8), while posting a surprisingly good 8-7 record in 15 starts for a Denver squad that was expected to finish among the worst in the league. This season, he is off to a hot start, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 8.7 yards per attempt, and a 103.9 quarterback rating. He has averaged 301 yards per game in the first two games of the season and, combined with his 2009 performance, may have finally shaken his reputation as a game manager.
Since he came to the Broncos -- and in the 2010 season in particular -- he seems stronger and more confident. He has more zip on his throws and he is throwing the ball with more authority and intent. He's proven capable of checking down and throwing quick screens as well as deep routes and the 15-yard out.
Though Orton will never be mistaken for Peyton Manning, that's not his game. He will never have the physical gifts, autonomy on offense, or most likely the talented supporting cast that Manning enjoys. But, he is far more than a game manager and is talented and savvy enough to win a game for his team. He has come a long way in his NFL career and it would be unwise for the Colts defense and coaches to underestimate him. The old strategy of, "take [insert starting tailback's name here] out of the game and make Orton beat you," is no longer a foolproof strategy. Indianapolis should not expect Denver to lose just because Correll Buckhalter is not a factor.
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