Orton gaining reputation as more than 'game manager'

Matt Trowbridge

Kyle Orton, long derided as a “game manager” at best, is suddenly being compared to the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.

“Kyle has had a great start,” said first-year Atlanta coach Mike Smith, whose Falcons play the Bears on Sunday. “He is managing Ron Turner’s offense extremely well. He makes very good decisions.

“He’s very similar in size to our quarterback. He’s got the height and the measurables you are looking for in a drop-back quarterback.”

OK, so talk of “managing” the offense still creeps into any talk about Orton. That’s not a word that gets used with the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings and Brett Favres of the NFL world, or even with the young guns like Tony Romo.

But now people are talking about the 6-foot-4, 216-pound Orton’s physical skills, not just his mental ones. Besides, Orton hasn’t been asked to play like Brady, Favre or Manning since his pass-happy days at Purdue. And he doesn’t want to.

With the Bears, Orton is asked to round out Chicago’s offense, not carry it.

That could sound like a recipe for obscurity to some. To Orton, it sounds like a recipe for success. And that’s another reason to compare Orton to Ryan, who has quarterbacked Atlanta, 3-13 last year, to a surprising 3-2 start by being backed with the NFL’s No. 2 rushing attack.

“I don’t think any quarterback in the league can come in and do it on his own,” Orton said. “But if you’ve got good guys around you and a good running team, which they do, that’s the story for success, whether you are in your first year or in your 10th year. That’s what you need to have around you.”

Orton has been asked to do more the last three weeks as opponents have ganged up on rookie Matt Forte, holding him to an average of 2.8 yards per carry. Orton has delivered, averaging 267 yards passing the last three weeks.

This from a guy who had topped 190 yards only twice in his previous 20 career starts.

Orton has also thrown seven TD passes in three weeks. He had 12 in his first 20 starts.

“This is how I expect to play,” Orton said. “And I expect to get better.”

The Bears expect it, too.

“Kyle has a lot of confidence; he knows he can play,” receiver Rashied Davis said. “Confidence comes with preparedness. He’s always prepared.”

Orton’s passer rating has climbed to 87.6. If it stays there, it will be the third-highest passer rating by a Chicago quarterback in more than 40 years. And while averaging 220 yards passing doesn’t sound like much to the Mannings of this world, Orton would finish second behind Erik Kramer’s 1995 team record of 3,838 yards if he keeps it up.

“Kyle has been progressing really well, which he should,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “This is his fourth year in the system. He’s improved his techniques and his fundamentals.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and throwing the ball with much better accuracy and good touch.”

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383

Bears season passing records

           Highest passer ratings

Quarterback    Year     Rating

Sid Luckman   1943    107.8

Jim McMahon 1984    97.8

Sid Luckman   1941    95.5

Bill Wade        1961    93.6

Rudy Bukich    1965    93.6

Erik Kramer    1995    93.5

Rudy Bukich    1964    89.0

Kyle Orton      2008    87.6*

           * After five of 16 games.

           Most passing yards

Quarterback    Year     Yards

Erik Kramer    1995    3,838

Kyle Orton      2008    3,520*

Rex Grossman 2006    3,193

Bill Wade        1962    3,172

Jim Harbaugh  1991    3,121

Erik Kramer    1997    3,011

* Projected after five of 16 games.