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Gambo: Quarterback concerns for bad Cardinals team

Maybe Cris Collinsworth will be right after all.

Maybe two years ago when he said the Arizona Cardinals were the worst playoff team of all time it was just a premonition.

Maybe he was predicting what would actually happen in 2011.

Right now you would have to believe that if these Cardinals make the playoffs coming out of this awful NFC West then they very well could be the worst team to ever make the playoffs. After another shellacking Sunday the Cardinals stand at 2-2, tied atop the NFC West with the St. Louis Rams, a team that won one game last year.

The problem with these Cardinals, outside of being blown out by a combined score of 82-17 in their two losses, is that this team has absolutely, unequivocally lost its identity. This team has no clue who it is or what it should be. The thought was that Arizona would transform into a power-running team behind Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. That clearly isn’t the case as Arizona passed the ball 41 times vs the Rams to only 21 runs, threw the ball 31 times vs 13 rushes against Atlanta, had a balanced attack vs Oakland with 26 rushes and passes and then had 28 passes to just 14 rushes in the loss to San Diego.

Granted the team fell behind big against Atlanta and San Diego, but this team is not a smash-mouth power football team, not with this offensive line that can’t run block, pass protect, or get out of each others way.

There was also a thought that Arizona could keep the passing attack that was so successful under Kurt Warner alive even with Anquan Boldin having Baltimore as his new residence. And that is clearly not the case as Arizona’s main offensive weapon, Larry Fitzgerald, has yet to register a 100-yard receiving game and is averaging just 52 yards receiving per game.

Injuries have played a factor at wideout for sure, but not seeing Fitzgerald dominate games is a surprise. And let’s not forget that with the additions of Kerry Rhodes and Joey Porter plus drafting Dan Williams and Darryl Washington with their first two picks, the defense was talked about as being the strong suit of this football team.

So far after four games fans are asking “what defense”.

Arizona has allowed 100-yard rushing games in its last three games as Jason Snelling, Darren McFadden and Mike Tolbert each have ran the ball right down the Red Birds throats. Things aren’t much better in stopping the pass as Mark Clayton torched them for 10 catches and 119 yards, Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes against them, Louis Murphy registered five catches for 119 yards and Antonio Gates went for seven receptions, 144 yards and two touchdowns.

Arizona is a mediocre at best football team that could actually make the playoffs at 8-8 because their division is just that bad. Now, I hate to be the I told you so guy but I told you so time and time again.

To quote myself I said that if Matt Leinart is not the starting quarterback of this football team then this team is in trouble. And it wasn’t because I thought Leinart was the be all end all.

It was because Leinart not winning this job meant that Arizona no longer had an option for a franchise quarterback. I still believe Leinart got a raw deal, that he should have been given this year to at least see if he could have got the job done. But head coach Ken Whisenhunt just never believed in him and never trusted him with his offense.

But back to my point on this team being in trouble. Look, good quarterbacks don’t become available in free agency very often. Only on the very rare occasion can a team find a franchise quarterback as a free agent. Most of the time the collection of garbage that is available is just that, garbage. Smart teams lock up franchise quarterbacks and never let them hit free agency. To win in this league you need to draft and develop quarterbacks or be lucky enough to pull off a really good trade for a young quarterback backing up a proven veteran franchise quarterback.

There is a reason that Mike Holmgren got to Cleveland and said bye bye to Derek Anderson.

Anderson is a stop-gap quarterback at best here, nothing more. Part of the problem was that Coach Whisenhunt did such a phenomenal job in turning around this organization that the fans and media had a “In Whiz we trust” mantra.

Coach Whisenhunt could do no wrong. And he earned that respect and benefit of the doubt by taking the Cardinals to back-to-back playoff appearances and a Super Bowl. But Whisenhunt clearly miscalculated here.

In an effort to not lose either of the rookie signal callers, Max Hall or John Skeleton, who was a fifth round draft pick, he chose to release Leinart and go into the season with two unproven rookie quarterbacks.

And as you can clearly see now that Max Hall is not going up against opponents third string defenses, the kid is just not ready to contribute at this time. He has some great potential and there is every reason to like him and to want to keep him on your roster but to not have a veteran experienced signal caller to replace Anderson off the bench on a veteran-laden team that wants and expects to win now is inexcusable.

Arizona should have either kept four quarterbacks or let one of the rookies go. Now if this season got away from Arizona and they had no chance of making the playoffs then playing Hall would make sense. But that is not going to happen. Arizona is going to be in this until the end and will probably win this division.

The difficult part for Whisenhunt is that he needs to come to the realization that one game may be the difference between winning the NFC West and going to the playoffs or going home.

So what happens when Whisenhunt wants to pull Anderson in a close game instead of a blowout? A game that if you had a decent backup quarterback you could win?

He may not be able to do that now. Around the league this year backups are getting time — Michael Vick has come off the bench and helped Philly win a couple of games, Shaun Hill has replaced an injured Matthew Stafford and given Detroit chances to win, Bruce Gradkowski replaced Jason Campbell and led Oakland to one win and should have won last week in Arizona; Seneca Wallace beat Cincinnati Sunday; Kerry Collins has replaced Vince Young this year in a game.

You see there aren’t that many good quarterbacks in the league. And the difference between some starters and their backups isn’t much. So unless you know you have a franchise quarterback and there aren’t many teams that do, you absolutely must have an experienced backup because chances are he is going to play. And right now Arizona doesn’t and that could prove to be a huge problem.