Kyle Orton saves Broncos -- but Betty White would be an improvement over current runners

Who gets the credit for the Broncos' wholly unexpected 26-20 win over the Tennessee Titans yesterday? Kyle Orton -- with a big assist from the Titans' game plan, which kept the predominantly orange men in a contest they had no business winning but (happily) managed to do anyway. But that doesn't mean Denver's problems are over -- or that the squad's found the formula to pummel opponents the rest of the way.

It was evident from the earliest moments that the Broncos' ground game wound grind to a halt. Laurence Maroney looked slow and indecisive, uncertain about what hole to hit and seemingly incapable of generating the kind of burst that would get him past middle school players, let alone the Titans' fearsome D-line. Moreover, Correll Buckhalter still doesn't seem to be 100 percent healthy -- either that or he's grown so ineffectual that he might as well announce his retirement immediately.

That both of them eventually pushed their per-rush average above a yard per carry was the only surprise they managed. For quite a while, it looked like Maroney, in particular, would finish the game in negative territory. At this point, the Broncos probably would have been better off trading for Betty White than him. She looked better than him in that Snickers commercial.

These pathetic performances immediately rendered the Broncos one-dimensional, which should have played into the Titans' hands -- and the T-men did successfully introduce Orton's ass to the turf numerous times over the course of the game. The coaches, though, could have ratcheted up the pressure even further, ordering their charges to bring the house on the vast majority of plays. But they didn't -- and this decision gave Orton the chance to move the team through the air more effectively than anyone could have expected under the circumstances.

Such success is a credit to Orton, who's managed to silence calls for Tim Tebow very effectively in the first four weeks of the season via throws that have been zippy, generally accurate and more varied than those he tossed last year. Yet the Titans provided a big assist.

The Titans' offensive game plan was dubious, too. The Broncos concentrated on bottling up Chris Johnson, and they managed to do so effectively; the only big run of the day came courtesy of Javon Ringer. But rather than trying to force the issue with Johnson, or design more imaginative plays to utilize his talents, the Titans pretty much capitulated from the get-go, putting the pressure on QB Vince Young to shoulder the vast majority of the offensive load -- and he simply wasn't consistent enough to do so. He frequently puts too much air under the ball, heaving floaters that give the defense time to react, and when forced to make a decision under pressure, he regularly goes in the wrong direction.

These qualities, along with the uncertain hands of Titans receivers, allowed the Broncos to hang around. And of such things NFL victories are made.

Problem is, neither next week's opponents, the Baltimore Ravens, nor any future rivals can be relied upon to give the Broncos the sort of opportunities the Titans so willingly sent their way. If Josh McDaniels doesn't find some way to get the running game to provide some kind of threat (other than the threat of derisive laughter, that is), the Broncos' winning formula yesterday will turn sour mighty fast.

But enjoy it while you can. A 2-2 record feels a lot better than 1-3, doesn't it?

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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