Yesterday, upon learning of Adam Schefter's report that John Skelton will probably start for Arizona in Week 1, my father, a longtime Arizona Cardinals fan and a Kevin Kolb guy, promptly gave up on the season. "Well, maybe they'll have a chance next year," he said.
I bring this up not because I think my dad is necessarily wrong. The Cardinals may indeed have a bad season—there isn't one NFL team that couldn't conceivably finish with a losing record in 2012. But I am always amused by the nature of QB competitions among diehard fans. It seems to take on the elements of a religious debate. Who do you believe in?
Of course the grey matter of football fans is not always MENSA quality, and a QB debate tends to bring out the lowest common denominator. "Both quarterbacks sucks," scrawled a fan below a recent NFL.com article on Kolb and Skelton, demonstrating my point along with a lack of grammar skills. But added to the all-too-typical negativity toward NFL passers, fans tend to exhibit other strange lapses in reason when it comes to the QB position.
Football is a very complex game involving 22 players at a time. There is almost never one simple reason why a team loses, but don't tell that to fans or writers who play the scapegoat card. An unpopular starting QB becomes a president representing a political party that the fans don't belong to; he can do absolutely nothing right, and any success happens in spite of him.
The fans of John Skelton saw him pass for 270 yards and three touchdowns in a 2011 victory over San Francisco. Fans of Kevin Kolb watching the game saw receivers catching passes from an imaginary phantom who didn't exist. Except when Skelton threw two interceptions in the same game, for which he was the only player on the field.
Unwittingly, fans of QBs tend to become Calvinist believers in predestination, whether they realize it or not. If Kevin Kolb plays 16 games this season and the Cardinals go 11-5, his flock—I mean, supporters—will behave as though it was an inevitable result of Kolb's arm and leadership.
In other words, if the season were played all over again due to some Groundhog Day scenario, Arizona would again go 11-5. And 11-5 again. And again. In reality, either QB may win or lose games due to circumstances or luck or the performances of teammates. Kolb had nothing to do with the officials conveniently forgetting a rule at the end of last year's Cardinals-Giants game, just like John Skelton had little to do with Patrick Peterson's tremendous game-winning punt return against St. Louis.
If the Cardinals played the upcoming season 10 times, they might finish with five winning and five losing records, regardless of which QB starts or who the fans adopt as their talisman. As Don Draper so charismatically tells us, "the universe is indifferent."
Some old-school coaches, such as Bill Parcells or Mike Ditka, have inferred that they treat the QB like any other position. Fans have often misinterpreted this attitude as blood-and-guts, block-and-tackle-'em coaches placing an unreasonably low importance on their QBs. But what they are really saying is that the usual logic of player management should extend to the QB position.
If Ken Whisenhunt promotes John Skelton as his starter in 2012, it doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't "believe in" Kevin Kolb, any more than giving uber-talented Ryan Williams the starting nod at RB would mean that the Cardinals have lost faith in bruising Beanie Wells as a contributing back. Fans search for a mystical "answer" in an attempt to cut through the dizzying complexity of the NFL, but coaches should do no such thing.
The truth just isn't that sexy—two of the 50 best quarterbacks on the planet are competing for one starting position with an NFL team, and coaches must choose between them. Either way, the overall play of the team will determine its success, or lack thereof, in 2012. I would rather have a great team with an average NFL passer than a poor team with a superstar passer. (That's right folks, the 2012 Broncos are not going to the Super Bowl.)
As for my opinion on the Cardinals' QB battle, I wonder if starting John Skelton isn't the smarter thing to do, simply because Kolb is more injury prone. Kolb can't possibly get hurt on the sidelines, so if the offense stalls with Skelton and you want to bring Kolb in, you've got him. As a starter, Kolb will likely get banged up at some point, meaning that Skelton's role would become a do-or-die scenario with rookie Ryan Lindley and journeyman Rich Bartel behind him.
But wait, that doesn't provoke much controversy does it? I need a sexier opinion. I need to "believe in" somebody. Let me break out my Bible, or maybe the Koran. I'll be back after a short vision quest.