EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — When John Skelton won the starting quarterback job for the Arizona Cardinals coming out of the preseason, the team felt ready to build on last season when he led Arizona to six of its seven wins during the final nine games.
Skelton, the third-year, fifth-round draft pick out of Fordham had beaten out Kevin Kolb for the starting spot, only to get hurt in the season opener and watch as Kolb lead a comeback win in relief and help the Cardinals (4-2) win their first four games.
Now, after Kolb reportedly suffered cartilage damage in his ribs and a sternoclavicular joint sprain in last week’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, Skelton has his starting spot back for Sunday’s road game against the Minnesota Vikings (4-2).
Coach Ken Whisenhunt expressed confidence in Skelton returning to the player the coach had originally believed gave Arizona the best chance to win this season in the competitive, and somewhat surprising, NFC West. Whisenhunt doesn’t see any major changes with yet another quarterback switch.
“I wouldn’t say so, no,” Whisenhunt told Minnesota media during a conference call Wednesday. “I mean, we’ve had both of these guys who have started and played well for us one game, so there is nothing any different than what we did at the start of the season and what we do from week to week.”
Skelton, who is finally recovered from an ankle injury suffered in Week 1, will start Sunday and be backed up by rookie Ryan Lindley.
The Cardinals are the only NFL team this season that is being forced into a second switch at the position. No team has made the move because of performance reasons, and Arizona wasn’t planning on such a move even after two straight disappointing losses, but Kolb is now reportedly out for several weeks after suffering the injury on a run.
Skelton, at 6-foot-5 and 244 pounds, isn’t considered as mobile as Kolb but adds his own strengths to the offense.
“They both know how to run our system,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think everybody, we’ve played enough with both guys that we’re comfortable with either one, and we’ve won with both of them too. So, I feel that brings some added comfort. John’s big, stands in the pocket and makes some big throws.”
Skelton is 15 of 38 passing for 194 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions this season. In relief of Kolb last week, he was 2 of 10 for 45 yards and an interception as Arizona lost, 19-16, in overtime.
“I know what it’s like to be back there with the bullets flying and feeling like you have to scramble every play,” Skelton told the team’s website. “(Kevin) made plays down the field with his legs, which is rare you see someone make one play like that, and he made them several times in the game. It was almost like it was a matter of time before you figured something happened.”
Kolb, considered to have better mobility than Skelton, had thrived since taking over for Skelton. He’s 16th in the league in quarterback rating (86.1 rating), had thrown eight touchdown passes and just three interceptions, while taking a league-high 27 sacks. But the pounding might have caught up with Kolb, the expensive trade acquisition Arizona got from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011.
Sunday’s injury again opened the door for Skelton, who replaced Kolb midway through last season after six straight defeats, including a 34-10 loss at Minnesota. Skelton had a 68.9 quarterback rating last season and threw 11 touchdown passes with 14 interceptions but also led the team on the late hot streak.
“(Skelton) was the starter coming out of camp, so he had won the job,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “The injury in Seattle set him back a little bit with his ankle, but you could see why he was a starter. He has a very good arm, 6-foot-5 and can look over your D-line and make the throws that he has to make, whether it’s inside breaking routes or outside routes. He can throw the ball down the field. He’s got a strong arm and seems to be a very smart guy as well.”