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Orton takes the hits, on pace to break passing record

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Kyle Orton's sore right shoulder is testament to the Denver Broncos' one-dimensional offense. He'd like better balance and more equilibrium over the season's second half.

Orton has piled up the passing yards this season, putting him on pace to challenge Dan Marino's NFL record of 5,084 set more than a quarter-century ago.

He's also on pace to get sacked a career-high 42 times.

Orton's been hit a lot lately, a result of the Broncos' imbalance, penchant for penalties and repulsive ground game. In his last outing, San Francisco linebacker Manny Lawson drove him to the Wembley Stadium turf, jamming his throwing shoulder and bruising his ribs.

He's not sure he could have played last week had the Broncos not been on a bye.

"It was a good week to have off, I'm feeling a lot better and I should be ready to roll," Orton said Wednesday as the Broncos (2-6) prepared for a visit from the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs (5-3).

With 2,510 yards through the air, Orton is one of two quarterbacks on pace to challenge Marino's mark. The other is San Diego's Philip Rivers, who has 2,944 yards passing in nine games. Orton even padded his total this week when the NFL added a yard after reviewing Denver's loss to San Francisco in London two weeks ago.

Ever since piling up more than 1,000 yards passing through the first three weeks of the season, Orton has talked about how he'd rather hand the ball off more than air it out. That would keep defenses from coming after him so much.

But the Broncos rank dead last in the league with a rushing average of just 67 yards a game -- and it's only that high thanks to mixing things up with reverses and Wildcat plays.

With starter Knowshon Moreno still finding his way after tearing both hamstrings over the last three months, the Broncos' most effective rusher is Orton himself, with a 5-yard average on 18 runs.

Part of the problem is an offensive line that's been shuffled for injuries and inconsistencies all season, resulting in poor play up front and a flurry of flags.

"We've hurt ourselves so much that half the time we're in second-and-15, third-and-12. I mean, all you're going to get is pass rush in those situations and you're going to get their best pass rush," Orton said. "I don't think teams are going to be sitting here and playing us for run when we're in second-and-15, second-and-20s on a regular basis."

This week, the Broncos finally settled on the lineup they envisioned back in camp: tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris, guards Zane Beadles and Chris Kuper and center J.D. Walton, giving them optimism they can finally find some yards on the ground and protect the passer better.

Could this be the start of a turnaround that salvages their season?

"I hope so," Orton said. "Those are good players that we've got up front and Ryan's coming back with a lot of confidence and he's excited to get back in, and we're excited to have him back in. He's played some good football for us in the past and he'll definitely do it in the future."

Harris hasn't played much since suffering a high left ankle sprain in the preseason finale, starting just twice, against Tennessee and Baltimore in October, before being benched.

"I'm a competitor. It's not the greatest feeling in the world. But I also knew I did and I do have a responsibility to be a good teammate," Harris said. "And I still just took it as, 'OK, you know, get better during the week, get healthy and be a good teammate.' The last thing I want to do is do anything to be a distraction."

Asked if he had simply come back too soon, Harris said: "No one plays completely healthy. I am healthier than when I was then."

Beadles is moving from right tackle to his natural position at left guard, which he played at Utah.

"I've played the left side all my career in college. So, it's getting back to something that I'm used to," he said.

Orton hopes better balance on offense will not only lead to him staying upright more often but also help increase the Broncos' possession time, allowing Denver's defense to catch its breath.

The Broncos' other conundrum has been slow starts -- they've been outscored 40-7 in the first quarter so far, further limiting their options on offense.

"I think that's probably the biggest key for us to play a complementary football game, which we haven't done a great job at," Orton said. "Let's try to play from ahead where the defense doesn't have to face 40 runs a game now and we're able to stay in phase and we're able to run the ball in the fourth quarter."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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