Can the Arizona Cardinals Survive the NFC West with John Skelton at the Helm?

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Can the Arizona Cardinals Survive the NFC West with John Skelton at the Helm?
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

During Sunday’s overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills, quarterback Kevin Kolb suffered a rib injury that forced him to leave the game with 2:05 to play in regulation.

Enter John Skelton, the Cards' original starting quarterback, who was replaced by Kolb after his own injury late in a fourth quarter of Arizona's Week 1 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

The two injuries, though different by definition, were so similar it had some believing fate had intervened to give Skelton the opportunity to earn his job back.

He missed on his first two throws, but then delivered a perfect 17-yard strike to a well-covered Larry Fitzgerald on a 4th-and-11 play to move the chains. He threw three more incompletions before Jay Feely hit a franchise-record 61-yard field goal to tie the game with 1:09 remaining.

After a great defensive stand set up the Cardinals offense at their own 47, Skelton found Fitz up the seam once again for 28 yards, setting up a game-winning 38-yard attempt from Feely who hit the left upright as time expired, sending the game into overtime.

We all know how overtime went.

The question now is this: if Kolb is forced to miss time with the rib injury, can the Arizona Cardinals survive the suddenly tough NFC West?

Yes, for the sake of brevity.

Offensive line woes aside, Arizona’s defense has carried them to the impressive 4-2 start that has them tied for the NFC West lead with San Francisco and Seattle. They have given up chunks of yards at times, but they buckle down when put in a tight spot.

Coordinator Ray Horton’s defense has forced 16 field goal attempts on the year, which ranks third in the league. The Cardinals are the NFL’s fifth-ranked red-zone defense, allowing a touchdown on just 35.3 percent of opponents' red-zone possessions. They also surrender the fourth-fewest points on average, at 16.2 points per game.

Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Arizona’s defense is the heart and soul of the team. They create momentum for the offense by stopping opposing teams in their tracks in the biggest moments of the game.

For an example of that, we revisit Week 6—the Buffalo game.

Late in the game, after Feely’s moon-shot field goal from Tucson, Buffalo had the ball with just over a minute to play. The Cardinals had all three timeouts remaining. In three plays, the Bills gained a total of three yards and drained only 12 seconds off the clock, being forced to punt.

Another facet of the game that will help Skelton lead the Cardinals is the special teams.

Patrick Peterson, specifically.

As just stated, the defense forced a three-and-out during the game's final minute. Leading up to that kick, Peterson had returned three punts for 36 yards with a long of 20. He was inches from taking one the distance.

His reputation as a return man is such that in late-game situations, teams try and avoid kicking to him at all costs.

Bills’ rookie punter Shawn Powell avoided Peterson, but he sent a shank off his foot that went only 30 yards and landed out of bounds at the Cards’ 47-yard line.

It took two plays for Skelton to move the offense into Feely-range, setting up the potential 38-yard field goal attempt that Feely ultimately missed.

Peterson affects the game even when he is unable to get his hands on a kick.

Now onto Skelton himself.

If you did not watch the game Sunday and looked only at the box score, you believe Skelton played terribly and is unworthy of being even a backup NFL quarterback. Most of you who watched the game and saw his 2-of-10, 45-yard, one-pick performance think the same.

But that is not the case.

Yes, the overtime interception was inexcusable; it should not have been thrown. The easy way out of this argument is to say he was cold coming off the bench, had not practiced with the first-team offense since early September and had missed the better part of five consecutive games.

Let us delve deeper into his first drive.

Skelton, on his first throw since Week 1, missed a wide-open Early Doucet. Doucet had come open in the flat to Skelton’s right, but with pressure closing in, Skelton was forced to suck the ball back in before reloading and letting it go, somehow getting it into the area of LaRod Stephens-Howling and avoiding both a sack and an intentional grounding penalty.

On third down, Skelton found Doucet, but the throw was off target due to left tackle D’Anthony Batiste being pushed all the way back into his quarterback. That set up the 4th-and-11 play.

On that play, Fitzgerald ran a 10-yard post-route, and Skelton put the ball within arm’s reach out in front of him. The route was perfectly defended by linebacker Bryan Scott; the throw was better (ball placement is pictured below).

NFL.com

Having watched both Skelton and Kolb throw footballs for the better part of three seasons, I can say with confidence that Kolb would not have made that throw. Not that he cannot make the throw—he has the ability. He just does not do it.

That is the difference between Kolb and Skelton: Kolb will take the safer throws every time. Skelton, on the other hand, has the guts to make the tough throw. Sometimes it bites him on the rear, but those throws are necessary in crucial times when the team needs a big play.

He has done it many times throughout his three-year NFL career. At 25 years old, Skelton has shown he has the confidence to make the throw his team needs him to make.

With his six fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives in roughly a season's-worth of starts, that should be obvious.

In fact, Skelton has connected with Fitzgerald four times in three seasons to set up a potential game-tying or game-winning field goal.

Can the Arizona Cardinals Survive the NFC West with John Skelton at the Helm?

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It is a major reason the Cardinals can survive in the tough NFC West if they are forced to roll with Skelton for any length of time this season.

Getting the offensive line to provide enough protection for the big-time throws to happen could prove to be the biggest challenge, but the unit did play better against the Bills.

Whether they will need him is to be determined, but coach Ken Whisenhunt is confident in Skelton's ability, should he be needed:

John did well enough in there to give us a chance to win in regulation. Had we made that kick (on the last play of the fourth quarter) we would have felt good about everything. (Via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com)

If Feely hits the field goal as time expires, are we even having this conversation?

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