The storylines have not been kind to the Cardinals, who had hoped to improve upon a 2011 which saw their starting quarterback go down and 2010 fifth-round pick step in to lead the team to an 8-8 record.
But whether Kevin Kolb or John Skelton starts in Week 1, this team looks like it is in for a load of hurt, as both quarterbacks have looked overmatched in preseason play. Speaking of overmatched, the offensive line looks as offensive as ever and the defense does not look improved in Ray Horton's second year.
Now, admittedly, this is just the preseason, so we shouldn't base too much of an opinion on the last three weeks. However, a close look at the talent level of this team reveals some serious issues that will submarine the Cardinals during the upcoming season.
If You Have Two QBs, You Don't Have One
Forget for a moment that both Cardinals quarterbacks look like fish out of water on a football field. Forget, too, that the team have shelled out millions for Kolb and traded away Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. Forget that Skelton was a fifth-round pick for a reason and is just as likely to chuck the ball 15 feet above his receiver's head as he is to complete a simple swing pass.
Forget all that, if you can, and consider this: Any time spent "grooming" one of these quarterbacks steals precious time from the other.
In normal situations (especially with young quarterbacks), backup quarterbacks don't get a lot of snaps. "Clipboard holder" becomes reality when the No. 1 quarterback is getting 90 percent of the snaps and the third-stringer is running the scout team. Great backup quarterbacks succeed by not needing those reps—stepping in when they're needed and not missing a beat.
So, when a quarterback battle is underway, those snaps have to be split. Instead of Kolb (or Skelton) getting 90 percent of the snaps—again, probably more, considering they're both young and developing—he gets, what, 45 percent? At best?
Those lost snaps don't just hurt the quarterback's development, but also the chemistry (or lack thereof) the eventual starter will have with his receivers. It also hurts the development of the young receivers, as they have to spend mental energy catching passes from two different quarterbacks. The offensive line has to block differently for each, as Kolb excels with a moving pocket and out of the pocket, while Skelton makes Drew Bledsoe look mobile.
While it's important to find the right quarterback, quarterback battles often hurt the overall team more than they help.
About the Rest of That Offense...
Whoever ends up at quarterback for the Cardinals is set up for failure.
Last season, Pro Football Focus graded the Cardinals as the third-worst pass-blocking offensive line in all of football (paid link). Things are not going to get better in 2012, as D'Anthony Batiste and rookie Bobby Massie have been thrown into the starting lineup.
The receiving corps isn't going to do the quarterback a lot of favors, either.
Larry Fitzgerald is a top-three receiver in all of football; that much is clear. After him, it's just a whole lot of potential that hasn't blossomed alongside the Cardinals' quarterbacks. Having a good young corps of receivers is great for a team with established QB play, but guys like Andre Roberts and Early Doucet are dying on the vine in Arizona.
First-round pick Michael Floyd will be lucky to see the field at all early on in 2012. He's been a disappointment so far, but it's hard to really blame the guy when one remembers who's been throwing him the ball.
As for the running-back situation, Beanie Wells is quickly looking like a bust more and more by the day. Ryan Williams looks like the real deal and has a history of breaking big runs, but both he and Wells have serious injury history. It is doubtful either can carry a full load.
At tight end, Rob Housler is a fan favorite and has flashed serious pass-catching talent. He and Todd Heap (a much better blocker than Housler) will platoon regardless of who starts.
Housler needs to be more reliable, however, as he dropped six passes last year.
Honestly, this offense would look a lot better if an elite quarterback was running the show. That isn't the case, though, and the Cardinals have done a poor job of bringing in talent to help their quarterbacks—especially on the offensive line.
Defensively, Not Much Better
Last season, the Cardinals gave up 21.8 points per game (17th in the NFL), and many thought that things were looking up. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett are beasts up front. Adrian Wilson is one of the most overlooked players in the NFL and one of the best safeties. Patrick Peterson was a Pro Bowler.
Well, not quite.
Peterson was a Pro Bowl returner for the Cardinals last season. On defense, he still has plenty of work to do. Bleacher Report NFL senior editor Collin McCollough had this to say about Peterson after the third preseason game:
Peterson is not an elite cornerback. Peterson is not a very good cornerback. Peterson is not a good cornerback. He certainly is not "one of the best players in the NFL" as Chris Berman indicated during last Thursday's ESPN broadcast of the Cardinals vs. Titans.
Peterson is an elite returner who is maybe, maybe, an average cornerback. No play demonstrated how far Peterson still needs to go quite as much as a second quarter scoring toss from Titans QB Jake Locker to Nate Washington.
This is not the SEC, and Peterson is no longer facing receivers who "will go pro in something other than sports." Peterson needs more than just his tremendous athleticism to succeed at the NFL level, and he's not there yet.
Then, as much as this defense has some elite talent on it, it also has some real scrubs. Paris Lenon hasn't been a quality starter in this league ever, yet somehow, teams keep trotting him out there. Kerry Rhodes has hit 30, and his best football is behind him.
O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho are both full of potential, but will that potential materialize? Fans can hope both turn into impact starters, but depending on them to do so in 2012 is a little far-fetched.
This is a team that could have been on the cusp of something special this season. Instead, because of poor quarterback play and some gaping holes in the roster, Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves could be looking for new jobs next offseason.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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