Everyone would agree the Arizona Cardinals are a bad football team. One of the worst, if not the worst, in all of football. Before the season started, Ken Whisenhut said this Arizona Cardinals football team was the most talented roster he’d had since arriving in Arizona. So what happened?
Fans and pundits alike have pointed to the losses of Warner, Dansby, Boldin and Rolle as the catalyst for the implosion we see before us, but that doesn't tell the whole story. There has been serious slippage in play across the board. Slippage significant enough that the losses of those players can’t explain the whole story.
Dominque Rodgers Cromartie is having his worst year as a pro, getting beat regularly and often. Hailed as a future shut-down corner, he’s shown himself to be anything but, and his penchant for avoiding tackles is costing the Cardinals this year. Adrian Wilson has been routinely torched by opposing TE’s, making most pundits agree that he’s lost a step. Calais Campbell has been invisible this year. The same could be said for Darnell Dockett. Dan Williams, their first round draft pick, has also failed to make an impact.
And, that’s just the defensive side of the ball.
On offense there’s been a similar train wreck. We all know about Derek Anderson, so there’s not much more to add. The lack of a running game, however, is somewhat of a surprise. As evidenced Monday night against the lowly 49ers, they can’t even hand off the football without an incident and this one came on their first play from scrimmage. Beanie Wells has been injured for most of the season and Tim Hightower has proven to be a fumble machine. It’s no consolation that the Cardinals still pass more than any team in football. With Derek Anderson behind center, that is unexplainable and almost inexcusable.
The only rational explanation is coaching.
There are two major mistakes Whisenhunt made this season that cost him the locker room of this team. They both came in the preseason. The first, mentioned often, is releasing Matt Leinart. There’s no evidence that Leinart would have faired any better than Derek Anderson (unless you consider his superior passing percentage, quarterback rating, touchdown to interception ratio, experience and knowledge of the system and players).
However, releasing him outright showed a personal side of Ken Whisenhunt that we haven’t seen before. That in itself affects a locker room. He released a former Heisman Trophy winner, with experience not just in the NFL, but with the Arizona Cardinals, all so he could make room for…Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton?
A move like that tells your locker room two things: Coach Whisenhunt has a personal dislike of certain types of players and winning comes second. It also had the additional paralyzing effect of showing his team that loyalty means nothing. People can say whatever they want about Leinart, about his sense of entitlement, but the truth is when you ride the pine as long as he did, you have to assume, inherently, that your time will come, especially after learning from Warner.
Coaches can’t have it both ways. You can’t tell a player to be patient and wait it out and work hard and train and you’ll get your shot and then you do all that and get released…in preseason, when it’s too late for you to go play for anyone.
The second huge mistake was playing Chris “Beanie” Wells late into the 3rd quarter in preseason. He ended up injuring his knee, while playing against players who were surely relegated to the practice squad. Because of that, Beanie hasn't been healthy all season.
It’s widely believed Whisenhunt, again was trying to send a personal message to Beanie, that starting won’t be handed to him, that he isn't “entitled” to the starting job just because of his draft status. Message received. He’s been lucky to play, let alone start. What do you think that does to a locker room? Again, it shows that winning, when it counts, comes second when compared with whatever message Whisenhunt wants to impart. A move like that kills your locker room psychologically.
Those are two major positions in the offense, quarterback and running back, both starters. Whisenhunt obliterated those positions before the season even got started. Psychologically it not only divides a locker room, but makes them question motives and their own status. If loyalty means nothing (and let’s be honest, that’s been an Arizona Cardinals problem for decades) and winning comes behind hierarchy and personal philosophy, you’re going to see what we’re seeing. The same old Cardinals. We are who they thought we were.