There are things I'll be looking for when the Cardinals host the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday. The usual suspects like turnovers, penalties, mental errors and red zone conversions will always be integral components to winning football games, but the dynamic of this game has a trend that intrigues me more than the others.
John Skelton seemed incapable of playing well early in games last season. Although he was 5-2 (6-2, really) as a starter and didn't lose a game he started at University of Phoenix Stadium, his slow beginnings often times put the Cardinals far away from the finish line, requiring a napping hare to win the race and the game.
John Skelton must start fast.
Starting fast means moving the chains. Moving the chains means Skelton is most likely completing passes on third-down. Completing passes on third-down means John Skelton is seeing coverage, reading coverage and making accurate throws. I want to see Big Red Skelton move the chains and complete passes, particularly on third-down. And I'd like to see him do it in the first-quarter. Honestly, I don't even care if they score points early; there is a bigger wave that needs to be navigated.
If the Cards are able to move the ball early and convert a few third-downs, John Skelton's confidence will increase dramatically. And this is exactly what this young man needs: confidence, to see himself perform and be successful early in games.
Skelton is the kind of guy where pressure runs off his back like grease from a double pepperoni pizza; but he's not superhuman. There are limits to a man's constitution and experiencing success is the surest way to eliminate the dark shadows that creep into the center of one's mind and cover his heart with doubt.
The tangible act of the chain-gang moving the sticks means John Skelton is doing his job and all that it entails. From the macro, it means he's quarterbacking a football team at the highest level our species can generate and doing it with aplomb; from the micro it means he's completing the pass.
This was the kind of thing that eluded Skelton a year ago. And this is the kind of thing that cannot happen again if the Cardinals want to win games.
And although I'm about to reject everything that follows and it makes me nauseas to say, playing quarterback well in the National Football League often times has a residual effect that cannot be measured by human hands but is as tangible and poignant as the lines on the field: how a quarterback plays impacts how a team plays.
I think I'm going to hurl.
If John Skelton plays well, particularly early, it will fill the hearts and minds of players with hope and hope is a wonderful motivator in the game of football.
Players should never consider their collective plight when competing in the Bloodsport…but many do. Unfortunately, players are mercenaries and demonstrate many of the same characteristics of those that have camped along the Danube and sacked cities throughout history. If players see reward for their risk they become more focused, they concentrate better and play with abandon, knowing there is booty and bounty to be had. The confidence level on the sideline soars when quarterbacks produce.
Big Red Skelton needs to call the plays correctly, get a good pre-snap read, see coverage, read coverage, make good decisions, be accurate, complete the pass, protect the ball, elude the rush, extend the play, move the chains, control field position, manage the offense, quarterback this team, lead this team and…start fast.
Did you get all that, John?