Posted Tue Jul 20th by Jon Heath
“The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it.”
The situation the Broncos had in 2006 (with Jake Plummer the starter and Jay Cutler the promising rookie) is very different than the Broncos current situation (with Kyle Orton the starter, and Quinn and Tebow chomping at the bits to play). Nevertheless, there are some similarities between Plummer vs Cutler and Orton vs Tebow, and if history were to repeat itself, the Broncos would be wise to resist the temptation to start Tebow mid-season.
In 2006, Jake Plummer was coming off a solid, yet unflashy 2005 season in which the Broncos made it to the AFC Championship game. Meanwhile, the Broncos had just drafted Jay Cutler with the 11th overall pick. Granted, Cutler hadn’t received the hype Tebow has, but he was a high draft pick and the pressure was on Shanahan to start him, much like McDaniels is now being pressured to at least play Tebow in certain situations – if not start him. Resembling Plummer is Kyle Orton, who is coming off a career year, but doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table besides winning (at home anyway).
If Orton starts the season poorly, like Plummer did in 2006 (he threw as many, and in some cases more interceptions than touchdowns in 7 of his 11 starts), Josh McDaniels will feel the heat to start Tebow (or perhaps Quinn, but that’s another topic for another time), much like Shannan did when the Broncos were 7-4 with Plummer struggling. To this day I believe former Bronco head coach Mike Shanahan made a mistake when he decided to name Cutler the starter and benched Plummer for a week 13 game against the Seahawks. Current head coach McDaniels can avoid making the same mistake by supporting Orton when he struggles.
The rookie, Cutler, finished the year as the Broncos starter, and took the Broncos to a 9-7 record, going 2-3 himself. In his first game against the Seahawks, Cutler showed some heroics, but ultimately his three turnovers cost the Broncos the game. Had Plummer started, the game would have no doubt gone differently, while Plummer was very capable of throwing two interceptions and fumbling twice in the same game – as Cutler did against the Seahawks, it’s unlikely he would have. Cutler wasn’t familiar with the offense, and didn’t get things going smoothy until a few weeks later against the Cardinals. If the
Broncos had beaten the 49ers or Seahawks, (in english: if the Broncos had let Plummer finish the year as the starter), they would have at least finished 10-6 and earned a Wild Card spot. Sure the defense was not stellar, but Cutler did have weapons, and still didn’t get the Broncos to the playoffs.
This season, the Broncos will probably find themselves in the same predicament, I can very easily see Denver starting 7-4 with Orton having his ups and downs. I couldn’t believe it when Shanahan changed QB’s when Denver was 7-4, and I can’t fathom McDaniels chaining QB’s if the Broncos will to start 7-4. Unless the Broncos start 6-5 or worse, Tebow being named the starter is very unlikely, and even then I think Quinn would be the named starter if Orton was benched.
Starting Tebow before he is ready could cause the Broncos to again miss the playoffs, while Orton has proved he is capable of leading the Broncos to a winning record – when the defense does its part. Some could argue the same could be said of Tebow or of Cutler’s rookie campaign, “If they had a better defense… .” There’s no evidence supporting that however, as the Broncos’ defense allowed just 23 points against the Seahawks, and Tebow hasn’t even taken a snap under center. Orton on the other hand has won every game (save one) as a Bronco when his defense has allowed 26 points or less.
Kyle Orton now has a solid grip on the system, and will be getting the most reps with the starters, to pull him mid-season would disrupt fluency. The Broncos can avoid missing the playoffs for a 5th straight season by sticking with Orton, and not giving into the pressure of starting the popular option at quarterback, like they did in 2006. To me, McDaniels seems like the kind of coach who knows these things, he’ll stick behind Orton just like he did last season when fans (and Woody Paige) were complaining. Just imagine what would have happened last season if McDaniels had started Chris Simms after a promising pre-season. Last year was an excellent example that you can’t judge a quarterback – or really anything - by pre-season performance. With all that said, I don’t expect to see Tebow starting in 2010, neither do I see him getting much (if any) playing time for the Broncos as a rookie.