Kyle Orton good enough to beat Peyton Manning and Indianapolis Colts, but rest of Broncos aren't

Did you ever expect Kyle Orton to throw for 476 yards in a Broncos uni? Probably not.

Did you ever think you'd see him toss a pass like that 48-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Lloyd? Doubt it.

Did you expect to see the Broncos lose to the Colts by two touchdowns? Yup -- and here's why it happened, despite Orton's heroics.

Simply put, the Broncos have an imbalanced offense -- an improving passing game paired with an inept, ineffectual running game. Yesterday, new acquisition Laurence Maroney gained 24 yards on twelve carries -- an achievement so pathetic that even I can do the math.

I know: Knowshon Moreno was hurt. But his yards-per-carry stats were nearly as anemic prior to his injury as Maroney's, which suggests that the fault lies with the young offensive line. The crew has figured out pass blocking pretty well at this point, but not the complicated scheme needed to spring backs for big -- or even decent-sized -- gains.

Oh, and in case you didn't notice, castoff Peyton Hillis ran for 144 yards on 22 carries against the vaunted Baltimore Ravens yesterday. But Brady Quinn did look pretty sitting on the bench.

This run-game deficiency put all the pressure on Orton, and he came through more impressively than his detractors might have anticipated. This season, Josh McDaniels has opened up the offense more, and Orton's taken advantage, demonstrating above-average arm strength on heaves down the field. And while his accuracy isn't in the elite category, he's able to zip the ball into tight spots more often than not. Couple that with a four-headed wide-receiving corps -- Lloyd, Demaryius Thomas, Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal -- that's helping to erase regrets about Brandon Marshall's departure, and you've got a strong air attack.

Which wasn't nearly enough against the Colts. Without the ability to run at key times, the Broncos made trips to the red zone feel as painful as endless visits to great-grandma's house. And while the defense did a more than adequate job of limiting Colts weapons like Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, the premier adjuster in the National Football League, countered with the likes of Austin Collie, who spent the day looking like the reincarnation of Fred Biletnikoff, but with better grooming.

If there were any doubts about whether Orton is a capable QB, they should be gone by now -- but he can't lift a team to success all by himself, even when throwing for almost 500 yards. He either needs a brutally stingy defense, an effective running game, or (preferably) both. And right now, he's got neither.

That's a recipe for a brutal first half of the season for the Broncos. And with a road game against Tennessee on schedule for next week, things won't get any easier.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts