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Broncos, Orton look like same old selves

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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Posted Sept. 13, 2011 @ 7:34 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

Meet the new Broncos, same as the old Broncos.

Despite wholesale changes made in the offseason to the front office, coaching staff and roster, the result was essentially the same for Denver on Monday night. The Broncos fell to the Raiders 23-20, their fourth straight loss to their rivals in silver and black and 17th loss overall in their past 21 games.

The game was a sloppy affair, repeatedly interrupted by penalties and scuffles, along with a rainstorm that made the ball difficult to hold on to. That led to six fumbles and a lot of missed tackles, mainly by the group of players wearing the bright orange jerseys. New Broncos head coach John Fox converted the team to a 4-3 defense this offseason, though the personnel on the field likely didn't reflect the vision Fox has for his unit, as an undersized defensive line was pushed around by the physical Raiders run game.

The PFW Spin

Other than the arrivals of Fox and executive VP of football operations John Elway, the biggest story surrounding the Broncos this offseason wasn't a person who came but one who stayed. QB Kyle Orton, thought to have been expendable because of the presence of 2010 first-rounder Tim Tebow, returned as the team's starting quarterback in 2011 after a trade with another team couldn't be worked out following the lockout. In two seasons as the Broncos' starter, Orton has eclipsed 7,000 passing yards and thrown 20 more touchdowns than interceptions, so his spot in the lineup was considered a rare strength for a young Denver offense.

That strength didn't show itself on Monday. Maybe it was because of Fox's offense, which is more dependent on the run than the scheme of his predecessor, Josh McDaniels, or the tough time the Broncos' offensive line had with the Raiders' front four, but Orton was out of sync all night long. The quarterback completed just 52 percent of his passes and averaged just 6.6 yards per pass attempt, numbers that are well below what he posted in '09 and '10. Taking five sacks is never helpful, either, nor is having a run game that gains only 38 yards.

But Orton's biggest mistakes were his costly turnovers, one at the end of the first half and the other in the fourth quarter, neither of which could be blamed on anyone else. On the pick, which was in Raiders territory with a half-minute remaining in the second quarter, Orton just misread the coverage, thinking he had man-to-man when the Raiders were actually in zone. The throw to WR Brandon Lloyd was an easy one for Oakland S Matt Giordano to jump in front of and grab; the interception set the table for Sebastian Janikowski's NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goat at the end of the half.

The fumble was even worse. Down three points and at the Oakland 25, the Broncos were in prime position to tie or take the lead in the final quarter when Orton dropped the ball — literally. After faking a toss to RB Knowshon Moreno, the quarterback cocked to throw when the pigskin just fell from his right hand onto the turf. Raiders DE Lamarr Houston fell on it, halting the Broncos' scoring chance. Just like the interception, this turnover directly led to points, with Darren McFadden running for 47 yards just two plays after the fumble to put the ball at the Broncos' one and then Jason Campbell sneaking it in, to give the Raiders a 10-point lead.

In order for the new Broncos to differentiate themselves from their past, they will need better play from Orton. Anytime there are changes to a team's identity, from the players and coaches to in-game philosophy, there are bound to be some bumps in the road. For the Broncos to survive those, their quarterback has to be the leader they expect.

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