Kevin C. Cox
When Ken Whisenhunt - the Arizona Cardinal's head coach - benched John Skelton for rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley, it shocked everyone. OK, "shocked" might be an overstatement, but it was odd at the very least. Just before Skelton hit the pine, he'd completed 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards. Whisenhunt snapped, and plugged in the former San Diego State star. In a modest debut, he passed 20 times, completed 9 for 64 yards and was sacked 3 times, fumbling once. It was at this point Cardinal's fans began to scream for Whisenhunt's head. But was there a method to what many perceived as madness?
The Cardinals were playing the Falcons in Atlanta, and the "Desert Birds' " defense controlled the game. They'd intercepted Matt Ryan 5 times and recovered a fumble. LaRod Stephens-Howling carried Arizona's offense with 127 rushing yards and a touchdown. Jay Feeley added 4 field goals, but the game slipped away on a fourth quarter touchdown by Atlanta's Michael Turner.
When Whisenhunt announced Lindley would remain the starting quarterback for this week's game against the Rams, he was doing two things. First, he was telling John Skelton his time in Arizona was at an end. Second, and this is just speculation on my part, I think he decided to play Lindley based on the match up ahead with the Rams. At San Diego State, Lindley specialized on one thing: The long pass. Taken in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Lindley's college stats were impressive: 12,690 passing yards, 90 tds, 47 ints, 1.9:1 (td/int ratio), 55% completions, 23 wins.
With stats like those, you'd think he'd have been mentioned with Nick Foles, Brandon Weedon, et al, but he lasted until late in the draft. Lindley has a big arm, but it has a tendency to get away from him. In watching film on him in 2010 and 2011, he had quite a few throws that were so off that it looked like he was trying to throw the ball away. In one deep route, his receiver had his coverage beat by five yards. Lindley threw the ball around 65 yards in the air, but the receiver was only 40 yards away. He has a quick release, but odd footwork, or at least he did in college.
So why did Whisenhunt decide to start Lindley against the Rams? All a St. Louis fan has to do is think about how bad the Rams safeties are, and how their rookie corner backs have a tendency to get beat deep. (cough - Janoris Jenkins - cough) Add in Larry Fitzgerald... See where I'm going with this? The Cardinals are going to run the ball 80% of the time this Sunday, but on the rare occasion when they pass, look for Fitz, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and Michael Floyd to double move on their patterns and run deep routes.
There's no denying the Arizona offense is awful, just as the Rams offense fails to impress anyone too. At this stage of the season - when both teams are all but eliminated from the post season - Whisenhunt decided to take a look at a promising rookie. I have no problem with this train of thought. The Cardinals will need to decide on their quarterback for 2013, and Kevin Kolb's contract is prohibitively expensive compared to draft players under the new CBA. While I think Kolb deserves the start for the Cardinals next season based on the undeniable toughness he's shown this season, the team needs to find out where they are at the quarterback position. Skelton is done in Arizona. When Kolb comes back, I wouldn't be shocked if they release Skelton. If Whisenhunt wants to show the Cardinals' fan-base he's serious about fixing the problems they've had on offense, quarterback and offensive line will be the places to start.