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Orton's sterling start dampened by Broncos' offensive woes

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Kyle Orton is not the problem. He will have to be a big part of the solution, though.

The Denver Broncos (1-2) have a wheezing ground game, a turnstile offensive line and issues finishing drives, ingredients that will add up to many more losses if they don't fix things fast.

Orton, though, is off to the best start of his career on the heels of a terrific training camp that earned him a contract extension and put to rest any notion of rookie Tim Tebow taking the reins of Denver's offense anytime soon.

Orton has already thrown for 1,078 yards, the NFL's fifth-highest yardage total after three games during the past half century.

He threw for a career-best 476 yards Sunday on 37 of 57 passing but managed just one touchdown toss to go with one interception in a 27-13 loss to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

"Um, he's been productive, certainly," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said Monday of his sixth-year quarterback. "But I tend to think about the quarterback relative to wins and losses, third down and red zone. Yesterday, we weren't very good on third down or in the red zone and we lost the game.

"That's not a reflection solely on Kyle Orton. Certainly I thought he did a lot of great things in the game. He's done a lot of good things all season long. I think he would agree entirely with my assessment of our team and our quarterback has to play well in those situations for our team to have a chance to win against good teams.

"So right now, I think he's playing well, but we have to play better in those situations that are really going to determine the outcome of drives and ultimately the outcome of games."

Orton concurs with his coach.

"When you lose a game, nothing was real effective obviously," Orton said. "Stats are pretty much meaningless when you lose, and there are other plays in the passing game that we didn't make, and certainly some plays in the running game to be made, too."

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The Broncos were held out of the end zone on five trips inside the Colts' 20-yard line Sunday and were just 5 of 15 on third down and 1 of 4 on fourth down.

If the Broncos can clean things up in these areas, they certainly have the passing prowess to be one of the NFL's surprising teams of 2010.

Orton, whose downfield ability was limited last year by two bum ankles, which affected his mechanics and throwing motion, has already thrown 13 passes of 25 yards or more, most in the NFL. That's half the number of big plays he collected all of last season.

The problem is, the Broncos are unbalanced.

It doesn't matter who Orton's handing off to, Denver's running game is like a muscle car stuck in the mud, spraying muck all over everything but going nowhere fast.

The Broncos managed just 47 yards on 18 carries against the Colts for a paltry 2.6-yard average one week after averaging just 1.7 yards a carry in a win over Seattle.

For the season, Denver's dismal ground game is averaging 2.7 yards a carry and none of their backs are even averaging 3 yards a carry -- the mark of mediocrity.

"The good thing is we're not going backward. We had one minus-(yardage) carry yesterday," McDaniels said. "We had very few of those in the first two games, also. Once we start finishing runs as well as we start them, our running game will be much improved."

While the Broncos aren't piling up negative runs, their running game sure is a big minus.

On Sunday, Laurence Maroney gained 24 yards on a dozen carries in place of Knowshon Moreno, who pulled his left hamstring in practice last week and whose status for Sunday's game at Tennessee is undetermined.

Correll Buckhalter ran four times for 12 yards Sunday, when the best average went to -- who else? -- Orton, who scrambled twice for a 5.5-yard average.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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