Thursday’s game in Tennessee was supposed to be a coronation for Cardinals quarterback John Skelton. He had played less poorly than Kevin Kolb through three preseason games, earning him the lesser-of-two-evils tag in this infamous and inglorious race for the starting role.
But the sad reality of Arizona’s quarterback competition is that with one touchdown drive, you can regain the upper hand. That’s what happened with Kolb — in between two horrid interceptions — in a 32-27 loss to the Titans. And now the Cardinals’ quarterback quandary is right back where it began: at square one.
“I am going to have to look at the tape, look at the reads where the protection broke down and look at what the quarterbacks were looking at as far as that evaluation,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the game.
Kolb completed 17 of 22 passes for 156 yards on Thursday. He also led the Cards on an 86-yard touchdown drive late in the first half, employing a no-huddle offense to complete 5 of 5 passes, including three to Fitzgerald for a total of 72 yards.
Had it not been for the interception he threw on his first pass of the second half, Kolb might have altered some opinions right then and there. Instead, he came back out for the second half and tossed said pick before leading another field-goal drive.
“I think we found a rhythm, but I obviously can’t turn the ball over like I did,” Kolb told ESPN when his night had ended. “I can’t put my team in that kind of position, but I thought we moved the ball and found something with the no-huddle.”
That particular offense may have been a revelation — or it may have been false hope. On the second-half scoring drive, the Titans’ second-string defense was in, making it difficult to gauge Kolb’s progress.
It’s interesting to note that Kolb got the majority of the snaps for a second straight game despite Whisenhunt saying he wanted to give Skelton his chance in Nashville. Are the Cardinals doing everything they can to help Kolb win the job because they invested so much in him?
Perhaps, but his returns are less than convincing. He is 22 of 37 for 203 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions thus far in the preseason. Skelton, who went 4 of 10 for 41 yards and interception on Thursday, is 14 of 25 for 131 yards with a touchdown and two picks.
It’s been difficult to fully evaluate either player, of course, because the Cardinals’ protection has been so bad. Whisenhunt noted early in camp that he was going to leave his offensive tackles on an island to see what they could handle. The answer: not much, if Thursday’s showing from left tackle D.J. Young is an indication. Kolb was sacked on his very first snap and had to throw the ball away on his second snap to avoid another.
Critics of injured left tackle Levi Brown may be reconsidering their opinion given what’s left on the roster.
Which brings us back to the same old question: What do you do if you’re Whisenhunt?
Forget for a moment that Whisenhunt is partially responsible for this mess given his hot pursuit of Kolb before last season began and his role in the organization’s decision to draft just one offensive lineman (Brown) in the third round or higher since he arrived in 2007.
There is still the reality that he must choose someone at quarterback — and no, it won’t be rookie Ryan Lindley.
Based on the current body of work, that decision is nearly impossible, so we rewind to something Whisenhunt said about his starters a couple weeks ago at training camp in Flagstaff: They’ll play until they get it right.
This offense is pretty far from right.
Do you think about making your starting offense take the field for Week 5 against the Broncos? It goes against the grain. Starters don’t normally play in the final preseason game, which is traditionally a battle for final roster spots. There’s also the risk of injuries.
But why not give Fitzgerald the night off and make everybody else play, including running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, who need the work after missing much of the preseason anyway?
Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and Whisenhunt’s decision could impact the entire season. What would it hurt to take one more week to get it right — or at least less wrong? Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter