‘Strong-arm’ tactics obsolete for the Broncos | SummitDaily.com

‘Strong-arm’ tactics obsolete for the Broncos

Mike Klis
the denver post

NFL success used to be built on 3 yards and a cloud of dust.

Now the foundation is the 4-yard pass and hope it will bust.

The short passing game has become all the rage in the NFL.

More precisely, the NFL is about the really, really short passing game.

In this ever-evolving wave of receiver screens, hot routes and check-downs, the Broncos may have the quarterback prototype in Kyle Orton.

In contrast to his critics’ complaints, Orton ranks third in the NFL in pass plays of at least 20 yards, fourth in average yards per completion and eighth in yards per attempt. Impressive production, considering Orton’s average completion reaches the receiver 5.7 yards from the line of scrimmage.

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“Not every pass has to be 50 yards in the air to turn into a big play,” Orton said. “We’ll certainly take them if they want to give them, but looking back on our first two games, we didn’t have too many opportunities to really push it down the field. We’re not going to try to make everybody happy and throw the ball down the field when it’s not the smart thing to do.”

Perhaps Orton should be judged not on how far he throws the ball, but where the official sets the ball after the play.

Orton knows how to generate a bomb from a flare. He has thrown for more yards per completion and attempt than his predecessor Jay Cutler, or New England’s Tom Brady, who is the QB standard in the offensive system used by the Broncos.

Granted, an 87-yard deflection within a two-game period carries the same skewed effect on a stat sheet that a hole-in-one has on a golfer’s scorecard entering the No. 3 tee box.

But Orton has had eight other 20-yard-plus pass plays.

“Kyle Orton, to me, got pigeonholed coming out of Chicago,” said former quarterback Joe Theismann. “People didn’t want to give him a lot of credit. . . . But he wins. And he knows how to make the big play. This game is about chunks of yards. Football is a game of big plays now.”

That Orton is among the league leaders in big-play passes would suggest either his arm strength exceeds perception, or it’s all relative in a dunk-and-dink-happy league.

There may be truth in both. Some of Orton’s big gains have been more about the run after the point of completion – or deflection, in the case of the game-winning, 87-yard touchdown play to Brandon Stokley in the season opener at Cincinnati. But there also was the 25-yard laser to Jabar Gaffney on Denver’s first offensive play Sunday against Cleveland, and the 49-yard, fourth-quarter heave to Gaffney that set up a short, game-clinching touchdown.

“Kyle has a good arm,” Gaffney said. “He can make those down-the-field throws. Sometimes, the defense is not going to let you get deep, so you have to check down underneath, but when its called, Kyle can make pretty much every throw.”

The underneath throw, though, has become a staple in every offense.

“I think it’s evolved into you seeing more quick screens rather than pound it up there every play,” Stokley said. “You have a lot more space out there. If you make one guy miss, you can get the home run.”

Another reason for the propensity of short passes is defenses are increasingly playing their safeties deeper in coverage.

“That’s probably been a trend for the last two or three years,” Orton said. “Really, it’s because you have safeties with such incredible speed that if you put them back there, he can really make plays on the outside throws. And if the ball is going to be hanging up in the air a long time, he can certainly have enough range to go make those plays.”

Consequently, the percentage of long-pass attempts has significantly diminished across the NFL, even if quarterbacks such as Orton still convert their share of big-play passes.

“Everybody wants to get the ball down the field,” Orton said. “I’m no different. I feel like I can make those throws. But if they’re not there, you can go from having a chance to gain a lot of yards to a chance to have a disaster happen on the play, too. So that’s not very smart.”