The Arizona Cardinals are facing off against the Denver Broncos at University of Phoenix Stadium and for the third time this season will start a rookie quarterback. However, it will be the second different rookie to start. After Derek Anderson struggled with effectiveness and suffered a concussion in a 19-6 loss to the St. Louis Rams and Max Hall was lost for the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder, John Skelton gets the start. Skelton, the fifth-round pick of the 2010 draft by the Cardinals, is making his first NFL start after finishing last week's game, going 3/6 for 45 yards. He will lead a 3-9 team that is in last place in the NFC West up against another 3-9 last place team in the Broncos, who just this week fired their head coach Josh McDaniels and replaced him for the rest of the season with running backs coach Eric Studesville.
For the Cardinals, this game means virtually nothing in terms of the playoffs. While they have not been mathematically eliminated, they are three full games behind in the division race and have only one win in the division. The team has lost seven straight and are assured of their first losing season since Ken Whisenhunt took over the team.
The lone, faint glimmer of hope that remains is to see what Skelton is able to. We have seen what Derek Anderson can do (or mostly can't do) and have seen a little bit of Max Hall (with a lot of turnovers). The one thing we don't know is what John Skelton brings to the table. We do know that coming out of college the front office liked him well enough to trade up into the fifth round to select him.
Whisenhunt never had any intentions of playing Skelton this year. He made that quite clear. The only way he was going to get in a game was because of injury. Injuries to both Anderson and Hall happened, so Skelton gets thrown to the fire.
Luckily for him, the fire he is bring thrown into is more like dying embers. Denver is one of the few teams that have had at least as miserable a year as Arizona. Since starting the 2009 season 6-0, the Broncos have only mustered up five more wins. They traded away some good talent in Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Peyton Hillis and lost a key defensive player to injury (Elvis Dumervil) after signing him to a large contract. They were caught cheating by the league and were fined, and now they have a new head coach.
Skelton, aside from starting against his own team, could not have asked for a weaker defense to play against. Denver ranks 30th overall in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed. However, he is leading an offense that ranks dead last in the NFL in scoring points and 28th is yards per game. The Arizona offense has not scored a touchdown in its past two contests and only managed a garbage time touchdown in a third game.
Denver does not stop the run well, ranking 31st in the league, giving up over 130 yards per game. The Cardinals, though, are 31st in rushing offense.
Denver does have a very good offense, especially throwing the ball. Starting quarterback Kyle Orton has had a great year, having thrown so far this season for almost 3500 yards with 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Denver averages over 270 yards passing a game. Arizona allows just over 240. Denver has not run the football well, but their starter is Knowshon Moreno, who has missed a lot of time because of injury. When he has played, he has been good. He averages over four yards a carry.
Denver is currently having some other issues. Starting cornerback Perrish Cox was arrested for sexual assault. With the coaching change, there was some noise as to whether or not rookie Tim Tebow would get the nod for the remaining part of the season. For now, Orton remains the guy.
Denver is favored to win on the road, being a last-place team with a new head coach. I'm not sure what else could illustrate just how bad this season has become. But if the team was able to rally and defeat the defending champions at home earlier this season with virtually no contribution from Max Hall, it is safe to say that it should be able to beat the Broncos (hardly synonymous with Super Bowl champs) with another rookie at QB.