TODAY'S FEATURE STORY
I don't buy the McSpin. I'm not drinking the McKool- Aid. And I'm certainly not getting caught up in the McHype. To me, Saturday night's performance during a 27-13 loss at Seattle was just further evidence that the Broncos are light years away from being competitive. And it was cause for concern about whether or not they're even heading in the right direction.
The biggest positive emerging from the setback against the Seahawks was the performance of Kyle Orton. Apparently, everyone in Denver should be giddy about the fact that he completed 18 of 26 pass attempts, for 182 yards and one touchdown. We should be even more thrilled that he cut his interception total by 67 percent, only chucking one to Seattle on the night - an ugly, left-handed heave that made Jake Plummer's similar attempt look downright beautiful.
I'm not on the bandwagon. On the night, Orton didn't complete a single pass that traveled farther than 10 yards in the air. Running a system that seems to bring new meaning to the term "dink-and-dunk," he only attempted one such throw, and it sailed 10 feet over the intended receiver's head. Unless Orton's target was wide open and close enough to whisper to him, the quarterback didn't have a chance. That's just not going to cut it. The Broncos look like a team that could conceivably complete three consecutive passes and still have to punt.
Even more concerning, however, is Orton's inability to make a play. When things happen "on schedule," to use a Mike Shanahan term, the quarterback is fine. If everything develops as it has been drawn up on the chalkboard, with Orton's primary receiver being open, he delivers a strike. But if the play breaks down, like it did on the fourth-and-goal situation that turned into the interception, Orton has no chance. He can't move. He can't improvise. And he can't make a throw into tight spaces.
He also has no shot in long down-and-distance situations. Three times against Seattle, the Broncos faced third and 10 or more. Three times, they ran a bubble screen. Once, Eddie Royal made some nifty moves and got the first down. Twice, Brett Kern could have saved everyone some time and punted one play earlier. If the situation calls for a rifle-armed throw into a defense ready for a pass, Orton is hopeless.
We've seen this act before in Denver. Remember Brian Griese? He was the quarterback who led long marches that resulted in field goals. He was the signal caller who strung together 12 straight short passes, and then saw the 13th get intercepted. Does that sound familiar?
But it wasn't just Orton that was a disappointment on Saturday night. Heck, he was the highpoint. Aside from the improved play of their quarterback, the Broncos seemed to regress across the board.
Defensively, Denver gave up a touchdown drive on Seattle's opening possession. Then, they surrendered another seven points right before the end of the first half. On the night, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was 16 of 23 for 171 yards and two scores, a nearly flawless performance. Sound familiar?
On special teams, the Broncos had a punt blocked, bobbled two kickoffs in a manner that led to bad field position and fumbled a punt return. All in all, Denver's kicking game continually lost the field position battle to Seattle. Sound familiar?
Offensively, the Broncos moved the football up and down the field. On the night, despite having no ability to move the ball at all for most of the second half once backup quarterback Chris Simms left the game with an injury, Denver out-gained Seattle - 282 yards to 248. They also dominated the time of possession, having the ball in their hands 10 minutes more than the Seahawks. Yet, they scored 14 fewer points. Sound familiar?
The Broncos also got killed in the turnover battle again, finishing a second straight game -3. One interception and two fumbles by Denver were their undoing, especially since the defense once again failed to force a turnover. Sound familiar?
It's a broken record. Terrible in the red zone. Unable to force turnovers. Lousy field position. Poor clock management. Mounting injuries. It's more of the same, only uglier and sloppier.
Where is this vast improvement? In what way exactly are the Broncos better than the team who walked off the field at Qualcomm Stadium in the final game of last season on the wrong end of a 52-21 score? How is this an improvement over Mike Shanahan's regime?
Right now, the Broncos are a bunch of no-name players putting up mediocre performances. It's a franchise destined to be remembered for what might have been in 2009, if Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall had been a part of the mix, and if Shanahan were still around.
In other words, it's a McMess. And it doesn't seem to be heading in a positive direction.
For more with James Merilatt, tune into the "Built Ford Tough Football Show" every Thursday night at 6:00 pm on Mile High