The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Passing is king, and if you don't have at least a capable player to drop back and throw for you, the chances are your team is not going to do very well.
The Dallas Cowboys are fortunate to have Tony Romo as their starting quarterback. He is a very talented player who is either hovering just outside the small group of elite NFL quarterbacks, or who just needs enough help from his supporting cast to prove he belongs with the best. He also is having to play this season behind a rather suspect offensive line that has not exactly been putting an impenetrable wall in front of him. He has already taken some jaw-rattling hits, particularly against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And now who is coming to town? The Chicago Bears. Also known as the NFL sack leaders, with 14 in the first three games of the 2012 season (which is exactly twice as many as Dallas has accumulated). With players like Julius Peppers bringing the pressure, the Cowboys need to get better performance on the offensive line, or it could be a long day for Tony.
Nobody wants to really think about having to bring in the backup quarterback, but with this matchup coming on Monday night, it is a contingency that unfortunately has to be considered. Dallas acquired Kyle Orton in the offseason to replace the retiring Jon Kitna. He not only brought experience as a starter and much younger legs, he made third stringer Stephen McGee expendable.
Orton also has a very significant Chicago connection, since da Bears drafted him in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. He accumulated a 21-12 record as a starter for them, but did not satisfy the team, it would seem. He was traded to the Denver Broncos for Jay Cutler, with the Bears throwing in enough draft picks to make it clear who they thought was the more valuable player.
Now Orton is going to be facing his old team. All the Dallas fans hope fervently that he faces them strictly from the sidelines, because no matter how much faith the team has in him, the Cowboys' best chance is with Romo at the helm. However, you cannot blame Kyle for having a few daydreams about getting a little revenge on the team that threw him into the Mile High Circus that developed when a certain Tim Tebow was drafted by Denver in 2010.
Of course, Orton's familiarity with the Bears is another way he is valuable this week, as Romo observed.
Romo said he's picked Orton's brain a little this week to help prepare for the Bears.
"Kyle's good," Romo said. "I've been lucky enough to be around a few guys who have helped. You need a good mind and a guy who understands the position, and Kyle is one of them."
But the real value Orton has is as that backup. He will be of value no matter what, since any NFL player can miss time due to injury or illness at any time, but he is especially needed during a week like this.
The fact is, based on recent history, at some point during the season Orton will be called on to at least finish out a game. Nobody wants to see it, unless it is because the game is such a lopsided Cowboys win the coaches decide to give Tony a rest and protect him, but it is still likely. Making it through an NFL season requires an ability to manage injuries, as we have already seen.
Orton gives Dallas one of the best situations at quarterback in the league. Wade Wilson, the Cowboys' quarterback coach, thinks Orton is the best backup in the NFL. I am not knowledgeable enough to say whether that is likely true or not, but it hard to think of a better situation. In Seattle, the Seahawks have what looks like a good backup in former Aaron Rodgers understudy Matt Flynn, but this guy from my neck of the woods is largely riding on one admittedly phenomenal game. The Miami Dolphins have Chad Henne, who may be sort of equivalent to Orton in some ways. However, I can't point to any NFL backup that is clearly superior to Orton. I also like the idea that Wade Wilson also worked with him in Chicago, and would almost certainly have thrown up a red flag if he saw any issues. The idea with the backup is to have as small a dropoff in performance as possible, and Kyle does seem to minimize that.
There is little doubt that Orton is going to be one of the most interested spectators at Cowboys Stadium for Monday Night Football. Let's just hope that he finishes the game like he begins it, as an onlooker.