Even If Arizona Cardinals Make Playoffs, Ken Whisenhunt Must Go

Shaun Church@@NFLChurchContributor INovember 20, 2012

November 18, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

There comes a point in just about every coach’s tenure when enough is enough.

When the franchise-saving quarterback is not walking through the door. When the playoff runs are long gone. When the team gets progressively worse despite having a talent-laden roster. When a starter is pulled after a quarter of play with his team up two scores.

That describes Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt’s 2012 season.

There have been a slew of injuries on offense—none of which the Cardinals’ all-time wins leader is responsible for. But having the team prepared to win no matter the circumstances is part of the job, and Whisenhunt has failed in doing that repeatedly throughout his time in Arizona.

The days of press conference excuses should be numbered, because there are many fans who have had it with the same lines every week.

“We didn’t do enough offensively, obviously,” Whisenhunt said (via Kent Somers of AZCentral.com).

Is that a quote from Sunday’s postgame presser or from one of five other losses this season? Maybe it is from a loss last season?

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It really does not matter, because it is the same line he feeds the media every time the offense struggles. He regurgitates the same nonsense week in and week out as if people will accept it and move on, like his past success with the team makes it okay.

This comes from the post-game presser, via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:

Ultimately, our goal is to make our fans proud. I know we’ve done that when we went to the Super Bowl and the playoffs and we haven’t forgotten that, and we have a lot of young players in here that understand that.

Stuck in the middle of that nostalgic trip back to the days when Kurt Warner led the offense is an excuse to why the team is struggling.

Without directly saying, “Look what I have done for this franchise,” Whisenhunt strategically pointed to the past, then threw in the bit about having a young roster—as if to excuse the current six-game streak as growing pains from a young and inexperienced team.

That won’t fly anymore.

The injuries on offense have hurt, yes. But the team won four games to start the season with three new starters along the offensive line, a starting quarterback turned backup turned starter, a second-year running back with no NFL experience and a struggling receiving corps—led by an All-Pro who can’t get the ball enough.

Arizona’s offensive woes are the direct result of faulty play-calling and ill-timed bad throws. John Skelton can make all the throws. But he is a notorious slow-starter—one who generates steam as the game progresses.

That leads us to Sunday’s fiasco.

Lost amid the offensive putridity was the best defensive performance of the 2012 NFL season. Not only did coordinator Ray Horton’s defense hold Matt Ryan out of the end zone for just the second time this season; they forced him into a career-high five interceptions—three off tipped passes—and a 40.5 QB rating (second only to his second career game, a 29.6 QB rating performance).

What did the offense do with those five interceptions and six total turnovers?

Three scores. Thirteen points off six turnovers. Their average starting field position off those turnovers was the Atlanta 34.5-yard line. Four of those drives began from within Falcons territory—three from inside the red zone (and one that gave them a 1st-and-goal).

Thirteen points off six turnovers. Why?

Because Whisenhunt pulled Skelton after just seven passes. He was not good while in the game. Just 2-of-7 passing for six yards. He did not throw an interception—breaking a streak of 11-straight games with such a pass—but every incompletion was due to a bad pass.

Whisenhunt felt that was enough to pull the trigger on a quarterback change, sending in rookie Ryan Lindley, who had seen exactly zero snaps in a meaningful NFL game to that point.

Lindley was forced into his first NFL game with a 10-point lead against a quarterback playing at home who, at that juncture, was 30-4 in the building. The defense did its part, but as close a game as it was—tied at 16 going into halftime—Skelton should have started the second half.

Whisenhunt should have considered his point proven, put Skelton back in behind center and walked away with another upset win on the road. Instead, what Cardinals fans got was an ego trip so large it was all anyone could see.

How bad was the choice to bench Skelton when he did? When it gets the attention of ESPN’s Grantland, it has to be bad.

Whisenhunt's decision is almost comically short-sighted on both ends. For one, benching Skelton after seven passes without an interception is absurd. If Whisenhunt is going to cycle through his quarterbacks on whims that quickly, he's going to end up with three quarterbacks who have absolutely no confidence, something that has happened to him and his team in virtually every season that didn't involve Kurt Warner holding the job all year. And if Skelton's leash was really only seven bad passes long, Whisenhunt should have realized that before the bye and made the move to Lindley in advance, giving the rookie a week of practice (and two weeks of mental preparation) before unleashing him into a key game on the road against a playoff team.

            —from “Arizona’s Revolving QB Door” by Bill Barnwell of Grantland

That is the last straw.

Putting the team’s record in jeopardy to prove a point that could have been made by a one-drive or even one-quarter benching is not just foolish, it is worthy of the Idiot Hall of Fame.

That is not to say Skelton would have led the team to a victory, but you have to believe he would have given them a better shot than a rookie playing his first NFL snaps. Skelton, after all, has been one of the better fourth-quarter performers since the start of last season.

If Whisenhunt must go, with whom should the Cardinals replace him?

That’s an easy one. The aforementioned Horton has already been interviewed for head coaching jobs around the league, and he is destined to run his own NFL team. Keeping him on staff as the head coach would be the best-case scenario for Arizona, as he can still have a hand in the defense while the franchise gains a true leader who knows how to motivate his players.

Whisenhunt gets the gist of how to run an NFL franchise, and he did okay during his time in Arizona, but he benefited largely from two Warner-led seasons that had many believing—present company included—he would be the one to turn the franchise around.

Since Warner’s retirement following the 2009 season, the Cardinals are the only NFL franchise to have at least a six-game losing streak in every season—three straight seasons, including the current six-gamer.

But it should be more than just Whisenhunt.

Offensive coordinator Mike Miller is as predictable a play-caller as there is in the league. His style of play-calling is such that it does not matter what players do well and what they do poorly; they run the plays Miller calls regardless.

Too many times this season, fans have watched as run plays up the middle are called with a 180-pound back and a struggling offensive line.

On one sequence during the fourth quarter Sunday, the Cardinals had a 2nd-and-2 from their own 22-yard line. Miller called a run play with LaRod Stephens-Howling off left guard from a shotgun formation that gained one yard.

On 3rd-and-1, he called the exact same play. It was stuffed, forcing a punt.

That kind of play-calling may have worked if 6’1”, 230-pound Beanie Wells were in the game, but as it were, he was inactive. Miller’s plays do not change based on which players are in the game. He calls the same playbook regardless.

If Whisenhunt and Miller must go, so must offensive line coach Russ Grimm.

One must feel for Grimm, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman in his day, for the line he has been given on a yearly basis since being hired by Whisenhunt in 2007. His long-time friend (Whisenhunt) has done little to add talent to what was a decent unit, and the line play has suffered because of it.

Grimm’s first year as line coach, the team ranked No. 8 league-wide, allowing just 24 sacks. The following two seasons—2008 (28), 2009 (26)—were more of the same, largely because of Warner’s ability to get the ball out quickly.

But since 2010, Arizona’s line has surrendered the most sacks in the NFL. Their 148 sacks allowed are 15 more than the next-closest franchise (Chicago Bears, 133).

Part of that might be talent, and injuries have played their part as well. But coaching is also to blame. There is no way a group of NFL players—no matter their talent level—can allow 23 sacks in a three-game stretch without blocking scheme being at least part of the problem.

Grimm’s base man blocking scheme is not working with the talent level Arizona has. It worked well for him in Pittsburgh from 2001-06 because they had the talent to run an MBS. His Steelers offensive lines allowed 224 sacks during his six seasons as the unit’s coach—ranked 16th league-wide.

But maybe it's just Grimm, himself. This chart shows what he has done with offensive lines from the time he joined Pittsburgh in 2001 to the present-day mess Arizona's line is in.

In both instances, you can see the sack totals have jumped from Grimm's first season to his last both in Pittsburgh and Arizona. He has not done what is necessary to maintain the offensive lines of whom he has been in charge.

Whisenhunt has wholeheartedly adopted a new “accountability” mantra that unofficially states when a player makes a mistake, he is removed from the game.

We saw rookie receiver Michael Floyd take over for Early Doucet in Green Bay, then Doucet take over for Floyd in Atlanta. We saw rookie tackle Nate Potter take over for D’Anthony Batiste in Green Bay. We saw Lindley take over for Skelton in Atlanta.

It is time we see Horton take over for Whisenhunt in a twist of irony he surely did not see coming.