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John Skelton’s decision-making skills still a work in progress

Given the current issues along the Arizona Cardinals offensive line, quarterback struggles are bound to follow suit.

And making just his second start of the season Sunday in Minnesota, John Skelton certainly had his fair share of problems during Arizona’s 21-14 loss against to the Vikings.

It didn’t help matters that the Vikings’ front seven was able to get to the third-year quarterback virtually at will — seven sacks and 22 pressures — but Skelton was also his own worst enemy on multiple occasions in the Cardinals’ third straight defeat.

In the first quarter, Skelton managed to lead a rather impressive 74-yard drive down to the Minnesota 14-yard line. But on 1st and 10, Skelton held on to the football for what seemed like an eternity before Brian Robison finally came in from behind to force a costly fumble.

Even with the unfortunate first-half miscue in the red zone, Arizona only trailed 14-7 going into the half and had a chance to trim the lead to start the third quarter.

Skelton, though, had other ideas.

Just as he did in the team’s 19-16 overtime loss to Buffalo in Week 6, the Cardinals quarterback misread safety coverage. Against the Bills, Jairus Byrd took advantage picking off a pass that directly led to a game-winning field goal.

Sunday, Minnesota’s Harrison Smith came trailing behind Vikings middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and followed Skelton’s eyes the entire way as he tried to force a third down completion to wide receiver Early Doucet. Smith promptly cut off the pass and returned it the other way for a pivotal 31-yard touchdown — which gave the Vikings plenty of breathing room for the final 29 minutes of play.

According to ProFootballFocus, Skelton’s poor play-making decisions under pressure — especially his game-changing interception throw — trumped a lot of the positives he had Sunday. They gave him a grade of -1.8 for his Week 7 performance.

Here’s what PFF had to say:

He started the game well enough and, despite not doing anything to blow you away, did very little wrong in the first half. That was blown to pieces at the beginning of the second half, however, as he handed Harrison Smith and the Vikings what wound up being the winning score. Trailing by just seven points, and with an entire half of football left to play, there really was no need for Skelton to force that throw. He finished the game by making some solid throws but plays like that, and the sack he took on 4th-and-2 with 7:47 left in the same quarter, show how Skelton’s decision making continues to fall apart under pressure.

While Skelton’s numbers — 25-for-36 for 262 yards and a touchdown — were fairly impressive given that he hadn’t started a game since Week 1, in a contest that was ultimately decided by seven points, a play here or there turned out to be the difference.

“The turnover for the touchdown this week was big,” head coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “When you’re talking about having seven points and giving them six, that’s a significant swing in the game.”

Whisenhunt was pleased with Skelton on a number of fronts, but given the team’s on-going personnel struggles, he said the Cardinals can’t afford to make big mistakes like Sunday’s crucial interception.

“[Skelton] did some really good things, made some good throws and was good in the pocket. But, [the interception] is the kind of thing you have to eliminate.”

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