As I watched (mostly through my fingers) the Arizona Cardinals lose their eighth straight game — this one a 7-6 offensive debacle at the hands of the woeful New York Jets, a certain phrase kept rattling through my head.
It was something about playing the quarterback who gives the Cardinals the best chance to win.
The reason why it was rattling around the noggin is because over the last three football seasons, I’ve seemingly heard it a million times. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has repeated it ad nauseum since Kurt Warner announced he was retiring at the end of the 2009 season. Whether that quarterback was Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton or Kevin Kolb, one thing has been constant — none have given the Cardinals a very good chance of winning. Arizona is 17-27 since that fateful January day almost four years ago and have had losing streaks of seven, six and eight games.
The Cardinals’ offense, led by rookie Ryan Lindley in his second career start, was in a word — offensive. The Cardinals managed just 137 yards of offense, and 40 of that total came on a fourth-down fake punt run by Rashad Johnson. Arizona went 0-for-15 on third downs in the game. Lindley completed 10-of-31 passes on the day.
Those who know me or have followed what I’ve written on ArizonaSports.com or said on Arizona Sports 620 know that I’m not a believer in John Skelton as an effective NFL quarterback. But if Coach Whisenhunt truly believes in playing the quarterback who gives his team the best chance to win, then Skelton should have been in the game.
Lindley is a sixth-round pick who has been abominable on the field this season, but it’s not all his fault. The simple fact is he’s not ready to play at this level. Whisenhunt pulled a quick hook on Skelton after he missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the first quarter during a loss at Atlanta — a game they were leading at the time.
So why this show of patience with Lindley? Between Whisenhunt and Jets’ coach Rex Ryan, whose quarterback, Mark Sanchez, was equally ineffective, Sunday’s game became a bizarre contest of pride.
It’s almost like Whisenhunt and Rex Ryan are playing a game of starting QB chicken, and neither will flinch.
— Vince Marotta (@Vincemarotta) December 2, 2012
Ryan finally relented, benched Sanchez and inserted Greg McElroy. The former Alabama star and seventh-round pick led the Jets on the only touchdown drive of the game while Lindley continued to struggle.
Whisenhunt was asked by sideline reporter Paul Calvisi after the game whether he considered making a change at the QB position, and that familiar response surfaced again.
“We talked about it, we talk about everything,” Whisenhunt answered. “You’re trying to put your team in a position to win and you consider everything — that’s the job that you’re faced with.
“You consider all those things and ultimately you go with what gives you the best chance to win.”
If Ryan Lindley is indeed the quarterback that gives you the “best chance to win”, two thoughts come to mind. First, your team’s chances of winning are nil. Lindley has been blessed with a bushel of turnovers (nine in all against Atlanta and New York) and couldn’t take advantage of the miscues and turn them into points.
And secondly, maybe the guy making the decision on who gives the team the best chance to win isn’t that good a judge of quarterback talent. Three months ago, Whisenhunt anointed Skelton as the starter after a less-than-inspiring preseason battle with Kolb. Three months later, he can’t step on the field to unseat a rookie who is struggling mightily.
And I know there’s that faction of people who say “let’s play the kid and see what we’ve got — maybe he’s another Tom Brady-like diamond in the rough.”
Can we please, please, please stop holding out hope of catching lightning in a bottle with a sixth-round pick or an undrafted journeyman like Warner? Brady is the very definition of an anomaly and has had the benefit of playing under arguably the greatest coach in the league’s history and there is a good reason why they’ll be making Warner’s life story into a movie in the very near future — it’s because longshots like that don’t pan out.
The majority of quarterbacks who succeed in the league are high draft picks. Yes, teams miss all the time on first-round QBs, but the vast majority of successful quarterbacks in the NFL are first rounders.
Maybe that can be the basis of future decisions on which QB gives the Cardinals the “best chance to win.”