Simms will have to step up game

It looks like Denver quarterback Kyle Orton will not play because of an ankle injury after he missed every practice day leading up to Sunday’s titanic AFC West battle with visiting San Diego.

Still, Denver coach Josh McDaniels said Friday that Orton is questionable to play and that he will be tested prior to the game Sunday. The winner of the game between the two 6-3 teams will earn sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

While Orton will be a game-time decision, the odds are against him of playing. Unless he improves dramatically, it appears Chris Simms will quarterback Denver in the critical game.

Orton was hurt in the first half against Washington last week. Orton played well in the game, snapping a two-game slump. However, Simms was horrible in the game in the second half as Washington came back to pull off the upset. If Simms starts on Sunday, it will be his first NFL start since Sept. 24, 2006. He had to have his spleen removed after the game.

Simms clearly will benefit from a week of practice with the first-team offense this week. Still, the Broncos will have their work cut out for them if they have to play with their backup quarterback.

The key for Denver to win with Simms will be his strong arm. He is not as accurate as Orton, but Simms has a gun for an arm. He needs to get the ball to receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Denver’s receivers have had success against San Diego in the past. Simms has to give his receivers a chance to take over.

The Broncos are also going to have to run the ball well. Rookie Knowshon Moreno had a nice bounce-back game at Washington with 97 rushing yards. He was struggling going into the game. Moreno and Correll Buckhalter, who looks like he will play despite a knee injury, need to take pressure off of Simms.

Another issue for Simms is his blindside pass protection. Simms is left handed so it nullifies superstar left tackle Ryan Clady as his blindside protector. That role will likely be taken by second-year player Tyler Polumbus, who is set to make his third NFL start. Denver’s standout right tackle Ryan Harris looks like he will miss his third straight game with a toe injury. Polumbus has been decent, but he is nowhere near the player Harris is. So, Simms could be on the run often against San Diego’s pass rush, which has improved dramatically in recent weeks.

There’s no doubt Denver would have a better chance to win with Orton, but that seems unlikely. Don’t be surprised, though, if Orton gives it his best chance to play.

He is a tough guy and he’s a gamer. He is an excellent teammate who will try to be there for his teammates in the biggest game of the year. But Orton is going to be gimpy at best and the ankle injury could hurt his accuracy.

In the end, it looks like Simms may be Denver’s most likely option against the surging Chargers.