Cardinals must see more carpe diem from Gabbert in final four games
GLENDALE, Ariz. — If Blaine Gabbert wants to prove that he is the Cardinals‘ quarterback of the future, the next four weeks would be a good time to show it.
In three starts, Gabbert is 1-2. He has thrown six touchdowns to five interceptions, he’s been sacked nine times and he has looked very much like a career backup.
“Up and down,” coach Bruce Arians said in assessing Gabbert’s three starts. “I think he has had his really good moments and then some poor decisions and poor moments — mostly not decisions; more throws. A lot of that can come with chemistry with guys but I think that roller coaster, you’d like to just see it even out a little bit.”
The Los Angeles Rams’ defensive front is formidable, but Gabbert had some help from the running game in the first half of Sunday’s 32-16 loss at University of Phoenix Stadium. He couldn’t take advantage.
Gabbert completed 18 of 32 passes for 221 yards but he threw two first-quarter interceptions that got the Rams off and running, allowing them to play with a lead throughout the afternoon.
The first of those picks came on the Cardinals’ first drive when Gabbert threw on the run instead of opting for better technique. He underthrew J.J. Nelson and Lamarcus Joyner picked it off.
“Just a bad decision to throw the ball on the run,” Arians said. “He knew he had the post and he knew the post was going to be open. Roll out and get your feet set. Don’t try to throw it down there on the run.”
Gabbert’s second interception was a pick-six to Alec Ogletree that gave L.A. a 16-0 lead. He missed a chance to make up for it when he overthrew Ricky Seals-Jones deep down the left side on what would have been a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Phil Dawson’s 45-yard field goal attempt that followed was blocked.
Just as troubling as the interceptions is Gabbert’s career pension for taking sacks, an issue that hadn’t cropped up in his first two starts. His mobility is one of his greatest assets, yet on a couple occasions Sunday, he seemed paralyzed by indecision instead of just getting rid of the ball and living to play another down.
“That’s a really good front but you’ve got to get the ball out of your hand, too,” Arians said.
In some ways, this late-season evaluation of Gabbert is unfair. The Cardinals offensive line is playing shorthanded, running backs David Johnson and Adrian Peterson are injured, and the receivers — aside from that guy who’s been doing it for 14 seasons — haven’t contributed much to the cause.
Imperfection is reality in the NFL, however, and Gabbert won’t have many more shots to shed his underachiever label.
“After the first quarter he settled down,” Arians said. “I would have liked to see a little more composure right there at the end. We didn’t handle the ball when he got it back at the five-minute mark and we needed to get two scores. As a whole unit, we crumbled right there.”
Gabbert isn’t under contract next season. He knows these final four weeks are part of a critical audition, but he is trying to maintain a big-picture approach.
“Not every play is going to be perfect,” he said. “You’re going to throw interceptions. It’s my job to minimize those. At the same time, you’ve got to keep swinging. You can’t let one bad play turn into 10 bad plays. You’ve just got to flush it and move on.”
Gabbert offered little insight on his self-evaluation when asked after Sunday’s game.
“It’s so week-to-week,” he said. “I’m just trying to improve each and every week. There’s going to be bumps in the road, but my biggest focus right now is being a leader in that huddle; being a leader for this football team.”
At least publically, the Cardinals continue to profess confidence in their QB.
“Blaine can make all the throws,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “This is the second week in a row now he’s been able to extend plays with his legs and get valuable first downs for us. That’s what he’s always done throughout his career.
“I think it’s a big help that Blaine is playing. He has started a lot of games (in his career) so nothing really rattles him out there. He’s got a great understanding of what we’re trying to do conceptually and we’re going to continue to build around him.”
With little left to play for other than evaluation, Arians said there will be no going back to Drew Stanton, who lost his starting job to Gabbert after injuring his knee against the Seattle Seahawks.
“We’ll stick with Blaine right now and see what happens,” Arians said. “He’s been improving each week. We’ll see what he’s got.”