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Week 4 awards watch: Orton's fast start worth noting

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Joe Howell / Associated Press
Kyle Orton has shaken his game-manger reputation this season, and is leading the league in passing.


In Denver, the legend of John Elway casts a large shadow over the quarterback position.

The Hall of Famer set a high standard with two Super Bowl titles and a knack for orchestrating winning drives in the game's waning moments.

Given those lofty expectations, it is hard for any quarterback to measure up. However, Kyle Orton is starting to show signs that he might be worthy of carrying the mantle in Denver.

While that might be hard to grasp considering the Broncos' traded for Brady Quinn and drafted Tim Tebow in the offseason, Orton's play during the opening month has thrust the quarterback into rarified air.

Orton leads the league with 1,419 passing yards, which ranks only behind Kurt Warner (1,557 yards in 2000) for the most passing yards in the first four games of a season.

While few considered Orton a prolific passer heading into the season, he has been on fire directing the Broncos' spread offense. He is completing 67.4 percent of his passes for an average of 8.1 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and only three interceptions. His 96.3 passer rating is tied for eighth in the league, and he is tied for the NFL lead with Michael Vick with five completions over 40 yards.

Those are not the kind of numbers that were expected from a guy who has been regarded as a game manager, not a franchise quarterback. However, Orton has taken to Josh McDaniels' spread system and his maturation in the second year in the scheme has allowed the offense to produce despite the lack of a solid running game.

The Broncos rank last in the league in rushing yards (55 yards per game) and yards per attempt (2.2). With little success on the ground, the team has increasingly relied on Orton to get the job done through the air. He has passed 50 or more times in each of the past two games, and his 43.8 attempts per game leads the league. As a result of the drastic increase in opportunities, Orton has three consecutive 300-yard passing games, including a 476-yard effort against the Indianapolis Colts.

Given his importance to the league's No. 1 passing attack, it is a must Orton is included among the contenders for Offensive Player of the Year.

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Offensive Player of the Year

1. Peyton Manning, Colts, QB (Week 3 ranking, 2): The four-time MVP is off to another sizzling start despite the Colts' surprising 2-2 record. He already has three 300-yard games, and is first in passer rating (112.2) and touchdowns (11).

2. Michael Vick, Eagles, QB (1): He was beginning to put on another show against the Redskins before a series of crushing hits sent him to the sideline. Without their top weapon, the Eagles' offense looks nothing like the high-flying unit it was under Vick's direction.

3. Kyle Orton, Broncos, QB (NR): See above.

4. Arian Foster, Texans, RB (NR): The league's leading rusher put on a display against the Raiders despite missing the first quarter due to a disciplinary issue. Foster is one of only three backs in NFL history (Emmitt Smith and Billy Sims) with 500 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards after four games.

5. Philip Rivers, Chargers, QB (NR): He was expected to see his production dip without the services of Vincent Jackson, but he has been sensational. Rivers ranks in the top five in every major passing category (third in passing yards, tie for second in touchdowns and fifth in passer rating).

Previously rated: Jay Cutler, Bears, QB (3), Chris Johnson, Titans, RB (4) and Adrian Peterson, Vikings, RB (5).

Most Valuable Player

1. Peyton Manning, Colts, QB (1): See above.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers, QB (2): The Packers will need Rodgers to continue to perform at an MVP level if they are to remain among the league's title contenders. Though he tossed two interceptions against the Lions, he added three touchdowns and guided the Packers to a win in a tougher-than-expected battle.

3. Tom Brady, Patriots, QB (4): He guided the Patriots to another impressive win by playing efficiently (19 of 24 passes for 153 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions). With the victory, Brady became the fastest quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win 100 games in his career.

4. Drew Brees, Saints, QB (5): The Saints' offense has not shown the same potency as last year's version, but it is not due to a drop off in Brees' play. He has topped the 250-yard mark in three of his four starts and has the sixth best passer rating.

5. Mark Sanchez, Jets, QB (NR): After being singled out following a shaky performance in the season opener, Sanchez has been outstanding. While his numbers are not exceptional -- Sanchez is only averaging 177.8 passing yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions -- he is starting to shed the game manager label.

Previously rated: Jay Cutler, Bears, QB (3).

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Clay Matthews, Packers, LB (1): The league's sack leader is on the verge of becoming a household name. Matthew's lone sack against the Lions represents the seventh game he has registered at least one quarterback takedown out of the last 10 contents.

2. James Harrison, Steelers, LB (2): The former Defensive Player of the Year continues to wreak havoc on opponents. Though he failed to post a sack against the Ravens, his forced fumble makes him the league's co-leader with three on the season.

3. Shaun Phillips, Chargers, LB (NR): He put on an impressive show against the Cardinals that will have some touting him as a one-game wonder on this list, but he ranks second with six sacks and he has done it without Shawne Merriman on the opposite side to absorb some of the double-team attention that he has faced in recent weeks.

4. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys, LB (3): He didn't get to add to his sack total due to the bye, but he will need to resume his destructive ways to get the Cowboys back to .500.

5. Julius Peppers, Bears, DE (NR): Stats don't reveal his true dominance this season, but a close look at the tape shows that he is playing some of the best ball of his career.

Previously rated: Troy Polamalu, Steelers, S (4) and Tamba Hali, Chiefs, OLB (5).

Offensive Rookie of the Year

1. Sam Bradford, Rams, QB (1): The Rams' surprising start has been keyed by Bradford's solid play. Though he is still plagued by some rookie miscues, he has provided enough to keep the offense churning at a high level.

2. Jahvid Best, Lions, RB (2): He leads all rookies in rushing yards, and continues to provide a dazzling set of highlights on a weekly basis.

3. Dez Bryant, Cowboys, WR (3): Coming off the bye, he will have plenty of opportunities to move up the charts as one of Tony Romo's top targets.

4. Ryan Mathews, Chargers, RB (NR): A bum ankle has limited his production this season, but he returned to score a touchdown against the Cardinals and should be in line to post big numbers now that he is healthy.

5. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots, TE (NR): Hernandez's versatility and athleticism have the team using him in a receiver-like role to take advantage of mismatches in space. He ranks tied for second among rookies in receptions (18) and leads rookies in catches over 40 yards.

Previously rated: C.J. Spiller, Bills, RB (4) and Dexter McCluster, Chiefs RB/WR (5).

Defensive Rookie of the Year

1. Ndamukong Suh, Lions, (1): He has shown an impressive set of skills to match his surly demeanor on the field. Suh leads all rookies with three sacks, and has become a dominant force in the middle of the Lions' frontline.

2. Nate Allen, Eagles, S (2): He has given coach Andy Reid a big-time playmaker in the center of his defense. Allen has already tallied three interceptions, and is acting as a Brian Dawkins-like rover in the middle of the field.

3. Earl Thomas, Seahawks, S, (3): He is already showing Pro Bowl potential as a rookie starter. Thomas has picked off three passes in the past two games and his knack for making big plays has transformed the defense into one of the league's most-opportunistic units.

4. T.J. Ward, Browns, S (NR): He lacks the name recognition of his counterparts, but Ward has been one of the shining stars on the Browns' defense. He ranks as the team leader in tackles and has more stops than any other rookie in the league.

5. Eric Berry, Chiefs, S (4): He has helped lead a surprising defensive resurgence in Kansas City. Although his numbers are a tad behind his competitors, few can dispute his immediate impact.

Previously rated: Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons, LB (5).


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Coach of the Year

1. Todd Haley, Chiefs (1): If you thought that the Chiefs would sport the league's best record at the end of the first month, raise your hand.

2. Mike Tomlin, Steelers (2): The Steelers got off to a surprising 3-1 start without the services of a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Imagine how scary they will be with Ben Roethlisberger back.

3. Gary Kubiak, Texans (3): The Texans are on track to overtake the Colts as the AFC South champions after dismantling the Raiders on the road.

4. Steve Spagnuolo, Rams (NR): He has his young Rams believing that they can win the NFC West after posting consecutive upset wins over the Redskins and Seahawks.

5. Rex Ryan, Jets (NR): The coach's bravado has rubbed some the wrong way, but he deserves props for his ability to guide the Jets to three straight divisional wins without his top cover man (Darrelle Revis missed two of those games), pass rusher (Calvin Pace) and pass catcher (Santonio Holmes).

Previously rated: Lovie Smith, Bears (4) and Pete Carroll, Seahawks (5).

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