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Doug: CKW under the spotlight

Doug,

I was reading the mailbag and you replied to Daryl with a long description of why you continue to support CKW and believe he made poor choices this year but is still a good coach. Before I read it, I was falling into the group who believed our great run was a Warner thing, not a CKW thing. But after reading it I’ll stay neutral. This is because like any business, success or failure at a job is based on results.

I won’t state the obvious for this year but moving forward, how do you believe our coach will respond with the mess he made this season? We need a veteran QB to mentor Skelton at the least (or take snaps until Skelton or the future QB is ready). Does CKW make this a priority? Do you believe CKW has a good eye for talent at the QB position? I’m not sure. He started Leinart over Warner in 2007. With Warner clearly a better QB the Cards went into camp in 2008 with an open QB competition. Then this year he benched Leinart after 3 preseason games and went with a guy who is doing exactly what he has done his entire career. He misses, A LOT! How the coach thought it would be different is beyond me!

Here are a few other areas I believe CKW needs to be questioned.

• Without Warner it seems as though CKW was exposed a bit. His flaws came to the forefront because Warner wasn’t there to hide the fact that CKW has never had a good defense. Our Super Bowl year our defense stunk, last year it stunk and well, here we are now. That is on the coach.

• Why did CKW say DA gave us the best chance to win when the exact opposite happened? Hall gave us our last win before the Denver game and in between those 2 games was 7 losses in a row with DA. Our 2 rookies gave us our last 2 wins. Hmm, strange.

• In all those losses, knowing DA is a very bad passer, we passed 65% of the time? Geez, run the ball once in a while. We were passing before we fell behind. We passed on obvious running downs. We passed our way out of a sure win against TB. All of this with DA under center. Why?

• CKW preaches accountability and competition yet very few of the guys who are obviously underperforming have gotten pulled. DA, DRC, Hightower, Porter, Dockett, etc… have all made clear errors yet none have been pulled, not even for a series. The only two who got pulled was Hightower and DA and both ended up back in the starting lineup. Hightower fumbled 2 more times after he was pulled and lost one of them. Where is the accountability? Maybe pulling some of these guys will light a fire. If not, we are obviously overpaying many of them and are in deep trouble until they are gone. (I know others have been pulled but none of the vets who the team was relying on heavily).

So I guess we’ll have to wait and see how CKW responds and what personnel moves he makes, both players and staff positions. Until then we’ll all have to sit and hope there isn’t a work stoppage next season!

Thx man

Bobby

First let me explain why I really respect your e-mail. Your points are fantastic and they aren’t presented like you know everything. At the same time it helps me explain what I think without sounding like I know everything.

I could eventually be proven wrong on my support of CKW. I believe he continually made a mistake by not running the ball this year. I thought using DA wasn’t going to be the disaster it was in Cleveland because I thought CKW wasn’t going to let DA really determine the outcome of games. I never dreamed the Cards would be 32nd in rushing attempts.

The tone of our show would have been much different this year if it wasn’t for the Leinart “behind-the-tree” press conference. If CKW would have cut Leinart just based on performance, I would have been all over CKW all year. Everything that happened this year, I would have blamed him based on that decision. I probably wouldn’t have been welcome back to the Cardinals facility every Monday. The catch is Leinart’s decision to blast the coaching staff and CKW in particular forced their hand. You can’t keep a camp-struggling QB on the roster who performs poorly in two pre-season games and then blast the coaches through the press.

I’ll take your points one by one and give you my opinion on each.

SHOULD THEY BRING IN A VETERAN QB?

I think bringing in a veteran QB is and should be a priority but only because of the division. There are so many problems with this team. If the Cardinals were in any other division, I would say throw your hands up and develop Skelton. If he turns out to be the next Roethlisberger or Flacco and you can win early with him, great, but the important thing is to develop Skelton.

I make an exception when you’re in the NFC West. This division is so terrible that an average NFL QB with a decent defense should be able to win the division. In this scenario, get the best QB you can, win the division and try to get lucky like Seattle did in the first round this year.

IS CKW A GOOD JUDGE OF QB TALENT?

I can’t judge him on straight QB evaluation when it comes to watching a college player, pushing for the player to be drafted and teaching him the offense. I don’t think the points you’ve made, however, show that CKW is a bad evaluator of talent.

One of the reasons why CKW was hired is because of his great work with Roethlisberger. The thought process was his work with Big Ben shows what he will be able to do with Leinart. The organization had a ton invested into Leinart and Matt entered the season as the starting QB. It quickly became clear to CKW that Leinart did not have the work ethic to be a solid NFL QB.

CKW is not self-employed. Anyone who has a job and isn’t self-employed has a boss. As soon as CKW realized Leinart wasn’t what he was looking for what was he going to do? The backlash CKW would have received from Cardinals ownership and management if Leinart was benched during camp of 2007 would have been unbearable. Even though CKW was head coach, he didn’t have the authority to bench the golden child.

CKW was so smart, he knew he needed to get Warner into the game and knew he couldn’t do it. Remember about four games into that season (versus the Ravens) CKW made up a scenario about the Baltimore blitz packages. CKW wanted to compete with these blitz packages with a hurry-up offense and felt Warner was more equipped to run the hurry-up.

This logic is so flawed from a smart man that there had to be more to the story. If the hurry-up works the best against the Ravens, why wouldn’t you run the hurry-up throughout the game? It’s not like the Ravens weren’t going to run those blitz packages when Leinart and the slow offense is in. CKW didn’t believe Leinart could handle the Ravens defense but knew he couldn’t just bench him. He actually pulled an end around on ownership. Before the decision could really develop into a trend, Leinart broke his collar bone and was out for the season.

Of course they went into 2008 with a QB battle despite Warner being the better QB. CKW had just come off of an 8-8 season. He wasn’t the be all end all yet. Ownership still wanted Leinart to be their QB. I don’t think CKW had the authority to flat out bench Leinart. At the same time, if he did have the authority—and the decision didn’t work—he’s setting himself up for failure. Starting Warner when the organization’s golden boy still hadn’t had the opportunity would have been career suicide for CKW. The miserable pre-season of Leinart and the success of Warner proved to management that CKW was right. The Super Bowl run gave CKW all the clout he needed.

BENCHING LEINART FOR DA

Now look at this decision through the prism of CKW’s career. The Arizona Cardinals have two non-losing seasons before CKW and they have 3 in the first 3 years of CKW’s career. He’s just come off of a great run as the Pittsburgh offensive coordinator and back-to-back trips to the playoffs as a head coach with an organization that was considered a dead end job for every new head coach. Why shouldn’t he have immense confidence that everything he does turns to gold?

CKW gave Leinart every chance to win the QB job this year in camp. I missed only 2 practices during all of training camp. I was never impressed with Leinart. He was hesitant throughout the entire camp. He was awful in the first two pre-season games. I don’t see how anyone who was at camp regularly would have been impressed with Matt Leinart.

I don’t think CKW should have started DA in week 3 of the pre-season. I thought DA was terrible in Cleveland and would be terrible in Arizona. However, I don’t think it was a terrible decision to start him because DA did have one good year. I have to believe CKW thought that with his ability to call games and the weapons this offense had that he could make DA into a serviceable QB. No matter how bad Leinart looked, I thought he would have played better than DA. CKW felt he couldn’t win with Leinart and at least thought DA was an unknown. Not knowing about DA must have looked better than knowing everything with Leinart.

EXPOSING CKW

There is nothing I can say to defend CKW’s decision to not run the football more this season. It was a terrible decision. If he was having a frank discussion with me, all he would have to say is, “the running game averaged less than 3 yards a carry, what should I do? I can’t run it, punt it and turn it over to my defense.”

DA wasn’t good enough to do anything. With that realization, the only choice left is to run the ball more. Maybe you get lucky and force-feeding the running game might have developed a more physical attitude. I’m reaching a little because the run game was bad but eating clock, keeping the opposing offense off the field and avoiding DA turnovers is a better option than hoping to get lucky with DA.

It doesn’t matter that CKW designed a great play. It doesn’t matter that a receiver was open down the field. It doesn’t matter that the O-line actually blocked one play well. DA wasn’t good enough to execute on a consistent basis to allow the game to be hinged on his ability to make plays.

This has nothing to do with the defense. The defense was terrible and I think CKW recognized that and felt getting DA to do anything would at least let them play with the lead and might make the defense better because the opponent is playing from behind. I think CKW planned on running the football as soon as he got the lead and they rarely got the lead.

I do think too many people forget the defense was better in 2009. I didn’t say it was good. It was an improvement on 2008. When you say he was exposed, though, because the defense hasn’t been good doesn’t seem to make much sense. I would say that it shows how good he’s been as a head coach to go 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6 with a bad defense, a bad defense and an average defense.

BEST CHANCE TO WIN

At the beginning of the season, there’s no way the two rookies were ready so DA did give the team the best chance to win. When Hall started, there were even more turnovers so the choice is Skelton or DA.

I’m not at practice everyday and I’m not privy to see practice film or sit in the QB meeting room. Once Hall is eliminated, how do I know whether Skelton or DA gives the team the best chance to win? It’s obvious at the end of the season the answer is Skelton but we don’t know when Skelton really became ready. I would have gone to Skelton much sooner only because I had so little faith in DA. DA’s inability doesn’t make Skelton ready but I don’t care. I wouldn’t be all over CKW for this aspect of the losing streak.

WHY NOT RUN MORE DURING THE LOSING STREAK?

I can’t answer your question. It was clearly a case where the head coach thought the defense was so terrible, we’ve got to throw early in the game when they think we’re going to run before the defense blows the game. At that point we’re forced to throw and we don’t have the element of surprise. I think this was a terrible mistake by CKW. This team is so bad I don’t know if it cost them the division but it made it impossible for them to win it.

If the Cardinals don’t embrace the running game in 2011, then it’s not Kurt Warner who carried CKW, it was Bill Cowher.

SHOW TRUE ACCOUNTABILITY BY USING THE BENCH

I completely agree with the premise but I don’t think you’re really understanding the main issue. If you’re going to bench someone, you’re giving someone else the opportunity to take the job. If no one does, you bring in the next option. Sometimes the next option is the guy you previously benched.

DA did get benched and Hall didn’t seize the opportunity. When DA failed again and CKW felt like the back-up was ready, DA was held accountable and benched again.

DRC was benched for a series in the Denver game. Right at the beginning of the game Denver attacked him and embarrassed him. The coaches jumped his butt. DRC went on to have the best game he had to that point in the season.

Hightower did get benched late in the season against Denver for fumbling. Then Wells started complaining of a stomach ailment. Jason Wright came in and played extended minutes until he suffered a concussion. Hightower came back in only because there was no one left. He went on to have his best game of the year.

I don’t think Porter should have been benched because he was terrible. I think he should have been benched because he was average. He came here and cashed a check every week without offering much more than the average free agent off the street. If you’re saying he should have been benched for lack of productivity I disagree because there wasn’t anyone who was going to come in and do any better. I wanted him benched or at least playing time reduced for other players. I would have let D-Wash play in Porter’s position. I know it wouldn’t have been completely natural but who cares? I’d rather get average to below average play from a player learning a position to make him more flexible and useful than a veteran who’s going to just be average.

Dockett went from being one of the most underpaid players in the NFL to one of the most overpaid in one year. For on field performance, I can’t justify playing him much. However, he’s such a head case that I think playing him was the right decision. If you bench him, who knows how he would react? It could have been so destructive that I don’t think it would have been worth it. He didn’t have a terrible season. He was just being paid to be exceptional and he was average.

THE FUTURE

Yes, the shine is off CKW and it should be. I hope my response to you, Bobby, shows that a lot of CKW’s decisions made sense at the time of the decision. Those decisions must be judged on the information that was on hand at the time.

If Christopher Columbus sails to America with the information available in 1492, he’s an unbelievable leader of men possessing incredible bravery and conviction. If he decides to do it tomorrow, he’s an idiot.

If you’ve been reading the mailbag, you’ve seen how many people e-mail me saying CKW should be fired. People rarely e-mail under the pretense you do. Most of the e-mails I receive are from people that are angry and can’t remove emotion from logic.

It’s easy for us to sit back and judge 2010 through the prism of its failure. CKW is on his 3rd defensive coordinator and has yet to develop a running game in the mold of the Pittsburgh style of football. There are very solid questions that need to be answered by CKW to prove the last three years weren’t a fluke.

Study the last sentence, however. Now that the season is over, it’s easier to remove the emotion from it. Are Cardinals fans really that ignorant to allow one poor season to define a man with the track record of CKW? Haven’t all of us made mistakes that led to a downward spiral. Let’s judge him on the recovery. If that fails, I will recant on supporting him throughout the 2010 season and admit I backed the wrong horse. I’m not ready to put this horse out to pasture. I’m going to run a lot more races with him.