It's never ideal to be the third quarterback on a roster being given the start when your team is struggling and your opponent is as hot as any team in your conference. You know two things – you don't have a lot of margin for error and the opposing defense is going to bring a lot of blitzes. That is what Kyle Orton of the Chicago Bears is up against when he faces the Vikings on Monday Night Football, and his battle with the blitzing linebackers of the Vikings is this week's Matchup to Watch.
Orton actually has more tangible game experience that Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson. As a rookie Orton, started 15 games for the Bears and went 10-5, but his detractors will be quick to admit (as they did with Grossman last year) that the success of the Bears was despite Orton's play, not because of it. He was asked not to lose games. He often got his bacon saved by a defense and special teams that seemed to score at will. With the entire Bears team weakened by numerous injuries, Orton is going to have to take a lot more of the workload on himself and will be asked to keep the Vikings offense off the field by stringing together long drives – something that will require him to throw the ball early, often and accurately.
To combat that, the Vikings are likely to bring an extensive blitz package featuring E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway and Ben Leber. Henderson and Leber are both among the team leaders in sacks – Henderson with 3.5 sacks and Leber with three. Against similarly young quarterbacks like Philip Rivers and Eli Manning it worked very successfully, as both seemed confused and awkward on the field. And both of those players were lottery draft picks with bright NFL futures. Orton doesn't fit into that category.
What made the Vikings successful in both of those games was that they disguised their blitzes well and never gave Manning or Rivers any indication when they were coming or where they were coming from. Even if they didn't get sacks on the blitzes, the result was often a poorly thrown incompletion or an interception.
For much of the season, the Vikings have faced veteran quarterbacks with experience and savvy learned over years as starters in the NFL. Joey Harrington, Jon Kitna (twice), Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre (twice), Daunte Culpepper and Trent Dilfer are veterans of the NFL wars who can pick up those blitzes in an instant and experience has taught them to get rid of the ball immediately when they get one of those red flags. There are no such guarantees as it pertains to Orton.
A lot of people were surprised when Orton was named the starter over veteran Brian Griese, but the message is clear. There is likely going to be a shakeup at quarterback in Chicago next year. Grossman is a free agent and Griese has done nothing to earn the confidence of the franchise. One or both of them may be gone by next season, meaning Orton is getting his chance to show what he can do against a Vikings team trying to keep New Orleans at bay in the wild card chase. The extent to which the Vikings linebackers can blitz Orton and force him into poor decisions will go a long way to getting up on the Bears early and dictate the pace and momentum of the game – making this the Matchup to Watch Monday night.