Skelton hasn’t won job, but Kolb has lost it

GLENDALE, Ariz. — We can’t help but wonder if Kevin Kolb compared notes with the Raiders’ Matt Leinart on Friday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. One presumed-then-deposed Cardinals starting quarterback advising another.

There’s no point in denying it anymore, because there’s no way to defend Kolb anymore in his struggle to keep the job for which he was acquired. There is only one meaningful preseason game left, and Kolb won’t be starting it. There’s not enough time to reverse the evidence.

John Skelton must be the Cardinals’ starting quarterback on Sept. 9 when the season opens against the Seahawks. It may not last — if we’ve learned anything about the NFL, it’s that quarterbacks come and go each season, whether through injuries or ineffectiveness — but it has to happen.

Maybe the benching will do Kolb some good; perhaps he’ll get his head on straight. Aside from one glorious opening drive against the Raiders in an eventual 31-27 Arizona win, complete with the triumphant return of running back Ryan Williams, Kolb has done nothing but hurt his chances.

Let’s insert some important counterpoints here. Kolb’s protection was awful on Friday. Again.

Experimental right tackle D’Anthony Batiste nearly got his quarterback killed all by himself, and running back Javarris James also whiffed on a block that led to a sack.

“You look back and watch the film and maybe see that I could have gotten the ball out quicker,” Kolb said. “It happened quickly. I don’t really know exactly what happened.”

Part of Oakland’s sustained pressure may have come because Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt and line coach Russ Grimm have opted to leave the tackles unprotected in the preseason to see what they can handle. But that wasn’t always the case Friday. They did get some help. They just needed more of it. A lot more.

The Cardinals’ inability to handle stunts or edge pressure was glaring, and it will only get worse if left tackle Levi Brown is out for an extended period of time after sustaining a triceps injury.

“That would be awful,” said good friend and center Lyle Sendlein, who like the rest of us will know more about Brown’s injury Saturday. “He’s out there on an island all the time. If we lose him, people will understand how much he does.”

If that happens, the Cards would probably have to slide Jeremy Bridges to the left tackle spot he played in 2009 when Mike Gandy got hurt. That leaves Batiste, D.J. Young or rookie Bobby Massie as possibilities on the right side unless the Cards sign someone. Those names do not inspire confidence in pass protection.

Then again, maybe all it takes to get better protection is to insert Skelton. It’s impossible to explain why the line performs better for Skelton — Sendlein called it pure chance — but it’s glaringly obvious.

Skelton led the Cardinals on a touchdown drive in the second quarter by making three easy throws with no pressure. He did not play again because the starting offensive line left.

Whisenhunt declined to name a starting quarterback after the game.

“I think I’ll have to get John some extended time (next week),” Whisenhunt said, noting that Skelton only took four or five snaps Friday night.

Without a large enough sample of throws from the preseason, Skelton looks like a runaway for the job. But the troubling reality is that to watch Skelton at camp every day is to understand that he is a long way from polished. He still has trouble with his reads and accuracy. He still stares down receivers. The Cards’ offense will be a work in progress with him at the helm.

But what choice do they have? Kolb has been ineffective. He hung in the pocket more Friday, as his coach demanded, but he got killed when he did. And he won’t have enough time next week to reverse what is now apparent.

If this competition had not been declared open from the start, maybe Whisenhunt could have shrugged off Kolb’s ineffectiveness because it’s the preseason. But there’s no way you can evaluate the two side by side and say Kolb has won the job.

That means a guy form whom the Cardinals gave up a $63 million contract, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick — a guy for whom Whisenhunt lobbied hard — will be sitting on the bench when the season opens.

That won’t sit well with team president Michael Bidwill.

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter