Last Second Audibles: Cardinals Quarterback Mess
This series takes a brief look at those things that will change the landscape of the NFL, and have the ability to really throw of my predictions. You will get just a short, multi-paragraph look at a bunch of issues.
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The Arizona Cardinals made the biggest, most controversial move of the NFL preseason when they benched and then dumped QB Matt Leinart, their first round pick in 2005. It’s most controversial not because they decided an unproven former first round pick wasn’t “their guy”, but because the Cardinals are now forced into a rebuilding process.
Why its really controversial: because the Cardinals are a two-time defending AFC West champs again, and the status quo expectation is that they would take the division again. A lot of people like San Francisco this year, but Arizona clearly has the advantage at quarterback. Or at least they did. The Cardinals went from having a quarterback they didn’t like to having no quarterback at all.
This is going to put them in a bind. Arizona’s defense is playoff ready, and they are loaded in the backfield. But making the transition from Anquan Boldin to Early Doucet at third WR is going to be a journey now.
Derek Anderson didn’t look like a guy who was going to take the job and run with it in the preseason. The team was clearly happy with the play of undrafted rookie Matt Hall, and if Anderson struggles, there could be a three-way QB battle for the job next year between Hall, developmental pick John Skelton, and possibly a highly touted pick next year.
I still have the Cardinals as a fringe playoff team if they can get to nine wins. But that’s a taller task now than it was before.
Among teams I left out of the NFC playoffs in my projections: Washington, New York Giants, Green Bay, Chicago, New Orleans. Any of these teams could fly past the Cardinals if and when Anderson makes game losing mistakes. But the bigger issue could be: at what point do you hold Derek Anderson to the same standard as Matt Leinart? Kudos to coach Ken Whisenhunt for doing what he believed to be the right thing without worrying about a plan B. But that’s in the past now. If Anderson does struggle, and all you have behind him to make a playoff push is rookies, can you pull the trigger early enough for it to matter?
We’ve seen Whisenhunt call a stripped down version of his offense for two years with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, and be very successful with it. So we know he can win with a rookie quarterback. But that team KNEW Roethlisberger was the future, so even if they didn’t win, they were preparing to win the next year.
For the Cards, there may be no better time than now, when they’ve won two division titles and are in the best era in the history of their franchise (which, yes, has been playing for 90 years). That’s what it will mean if they can win again this year. And they probably should. But in doing the right thing for their franchise, they likely made getting a third straight division title that much harder on themselves.