The first thing you should know about Kyle Orton is that he keeps getting better. In his four years at Purdue, he improved his QB Rating every season. In his 4.5 NFL seasons since he has improved his QB rating each year.
That's not the strangest part though. The strangest part is that this wide-open, pass-heavy offense the Broncos run is similar to what Orton ran in college. Look at these stats for his 3 years at Purdue as a starter, compared to his 1.5 years of starting for the Broncos:
2002: 60.6% completion, 7.1 yards per attempt
2003: 60.6% completion, 7.0 yards per attempt
2004: 60.7% completion, 7.9 yards per attempt (with 31 TDs against 5 INTs! How was he not a 1st round draft pick?!?)
2009: 62.1% completion, 7.0 yards per attempt
2010: 62.0% completion, 8.0 yards per attempt
I mean.....that's scary, right? I remember heading into last season, hearing people say "ORTON?!? REALLY?!?" and thinking.....the Broncos got themselves a steal. You mean a QB whose strength is not making mistakes and accuracy struggled in a Bears passing offense that was built around the philosophy "We'll throw downfield all the time, even though we can't pass-protect and we don't have any good WRs!" You're kidding me. Orton was a great fit for McDaniels' system, Denver realized it and upgraded their QB situation while getting a few first round picks as well.
Long story short, Kyle Orton might not be one of the league's elite QBs. However, in the right system he can play as well as them. Heck, for all we know he's every bit as good as Tom Brady (which is to say that Brady could be worse in a different system). The Chargers are most certainly aware of how good he has been playing this year, and if you watched him destroy the Chiefs you know that this is a guy that should be feared and game-planned for.
Has everyone come to grips with the fact that Kyle Orton should be feared? Now the question becomes is this simply something the Chargers have to be aware of, or something that they will not be able to control. For that we will do a brief analysis on who the top QBs in the league are this season, see if the Chargers have faced any of them, and then see how well they have fared against those passers.
First, one of my favorite stats for determining the value of a QB....yards per attempt.
1. Philip Rivers (8.9)
2. Michael Vick (8.8)
3. Ben Roethlisberger (8.3)
4. David Garrard (8.0)
4. Jon Kitna (8.0)
4. Kyle Orton (8.0)
7. Jay Cutler (7.8)
7. Matt Schaub (7.8)
7. Vince Young (7.8)
Okay, well they're not the creme de la creme....but at least those last two guys have gone up against the 2010 Chargers defense. Let's go to Football Outsiders' DVOA ranking of QBs and see how much of this overlaps:
1. Tom Brady (41.0%)
2. Michael Vick (37.9%)
3. Kyle Orton (34.7%)
4. Philip Rivers (33.6%)
5. Ben Roethlisberger (32.6%)
6. Aaron Rodgers (27.9%)
7. Peyton Manning (25.7%)
8. David Garrard (25.6%)
11. Vince Young (24.5%)
Sorry, I skipped 9 and 10 (Romo and Ryan) because it was getting long and irrelevant. For the record, Schaub is ranked 16th. So, the three best QBs the Chargers have faced this year seem to be Brady, Garrard and Young (Brady is not amongst the leaders in yards per attempt because of a lack of WR and a specific gameplan). Let's take a look at their stat lines against the Chargers:
Brady: 59.4% completion, 159 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 4 Sacks
Garrard: 65.2% completion, 173 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs, 2 Sacks
Young: 47.6% completion, 253 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 0 Sacks
It's fairly impressive that Young was able to finish with a QB Rating of 123.7 when completing less than 50% of his passes, but I digress. The Chargers defense, which has looked good all season at stopping the pass (except for a meltdown against the Raiders), has held up very well to the best QBs in the league.
Now, Orton is obviously better than Garrard and Young, but he's very similar to Tom Brady at this point. The Chargers were able to frustrate Brady with a good pass rush and good downfield coverage, and I suppose they'll hope to have similar results going up against Orton and the Broncos.
So, final verdict? Kyle Orton is a QB that should be feared. If you lack of a secondary, like the Jacksonville Jaguars or Seattle Seahawks, you know that you will need more than a couple of lucky breaks to keep him from shredding your defense and winning the game for his team. The Chargers seem to have the pieces in place and the talent to at least slow down Orton and let the Chargers offense build a lead, but should they turn the ball over or give the Broncos a short field.....it's going to be a long night.