49ers vs. Cardinals: John Skelton Needs Huge Game for Arizona

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49ers vs. Cardinals:  John Skelton Needs Huge Game for Arizona
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
John Skelton must return the Cardinals to their winning ways.

John Skelton has struggled mightily since returning from injury, and the Arizona Cardinals have dropped both the games he has started in.  Last week, Skelton threw for 262 yards, but he was sacked seven times and had two turnovers. 

He's been throwing far too many interceptions (4.9 percent, 17 interceptions in 349 throws), and he knows he has missed key chances in games.

"You can't squander it.  You can't give it away.  The way our defense is playing, any points on the board is really a win for us, because we know we're not going to have to get into a shootout with anyone at this point."  - John Skelton to Darren Urban for the Arizona Cardinals team website

That may be true, but it doesn't negate the fact that the Cardinals need some scoring.  They have scored just 33 points combined in the last three games, and though they amassed 356 yards in their loss to the Minnesota Vikings, they still only scored two touchdowns and lost by seven.

Part of Skelton's problem according to ESPN Insider Scouting (subscription required) is that he lacks the mobility to extend the pocket.  Skelton also needs to read coverages better and make better choices when under pressure.

So far, that scouting report has translated directly into the problems we've seen: the interceptions and the sacks.  

He's not been mobile enough to avoid getting sacked, nor has he read coverages accurately enough and made the right judgement calls on when to throw and when not to.  

Skelton has thrown an interception in 10 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL, and he's completed just 44.4 percent of his attempts to Larry Fitzgerald more than 10 yards downfield.  His arm just isn't as accurate as he thinks it is when he's making longer throws.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Skelton is finding himself getting sacked way too often.

 

He's still making rookie mistakes, despite the fact that he's now played 16 NFL games over three seasons.  Maybe that isn't enough. 

Skelton needs seasoning, and he's going to have to work through that a lot faster to avoid the talk that Kevin Kolb should still be the starter.  

The team fared better under Kolb, but he doesn't represent the long-term hopes of the Cardinals, and Skelton has a far greater upside than Kolb, who posted a QB rating of 86.1. 

Skelton is capable of posting one well over 100, but only if the line protects him well.  

The offensive line has been largely responsible for the league-high 35 sacks the Cardinals have incurred this season, and passers have been sacked 29 times in the last four games.  The Cardinals can't win football games without some kind of quarterback protection.

So, accordingly, it's unfair to put all of the blame on Skelton.  He hasn't been good; that's true.  But he also hasn't had a level playing field, with so little time to make throws and so many opposing players sneaking through the line to sack him.  

Skelton can't play his best until he gets some help and establishes a longer time in the pocket—a larger and more protected pocket.  He needs to step it up, but he can't do it on his own.

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