Let me again start by saying that the Cardinals are by no means playing a lost season. Their performance in a 41-10 loss to San Diego on Sunday may have been complete and utter nightmare fuel, but guess what, they still play in the National Football Conference's Western Division (aka NFC West) and that, my friends, will set you free.
For those of you unfamiliar with the NFC West, the preseason favorite 49ers are 0-4 (but with two moral victories), while the other three teams are tied at a stunningly unimpressive 2-2.
The Cardinals may have had their butts handed to them twice, but the Seahawks have looked hideous on the road, while the Rams have already lost to the Cardinals. So, no matter how bad things might look right now, the Cardinals are not going to be out of this race any time soon.
Yes, the defense has been an embarrassment in both of the Cardinals two losses, but for some reason, I'm still not ready to quit on those guys -- regardless of whether or not my opinion is that Bill Davis couldn't coordinate a box social, much less a defense.
No, the one thing I (and probably many others) am having a really difficult time wrapping my mind around is what exactly were Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals front office thinking with regards to the quarterback position following Kurt Warner's retirement.
I know, stop me if you've heard all this before, but these are the kind of thoughts that run through your head when the options for your team are Derek Anderson, Max Hall, and John Skelton. Not exactly Montana, Young, Bono.
Theoretically, when Warner retired, the Cardinals were set to turn the starting quarterback job over to Matt Leinart. The overwhelming opinion on the former USC Trojan may have been lukewarm, but considering the time and dollars invested into him, it was apparent that he was going to get the year to prove himself.
Thus, the Cardinals quarterback game plan for 2010 was quite seemingly clear: let Leinart play out a season and pick up a veteran quarterback off the scrap heap to push Matt a bit in camp.
Since Arizona wasn't looking for a starter, that took them out of the market for the two most viable trade options, Donovan McNabb and Jason Campbell.
On the free agency front, the three most realistic options were Derek Anderson, Charlie Whitehurst, and Marc Bulger. Unfortunately for the Cards, St. Louis had not yet released Bulger, so in the hazy, crazy days of late February and early March, the Cardinals and Seahawks duked it out for the right to have Whitehurst or Anderson. You remember which one the Cardinals got. Spoiler alert -- it's the one who has the accuracy of a nine-year-old girl at a carnival game.
To round out their quarterback crew, Arizona went and picked up project QB John Skelton in the 5th round of April's draft and shortly thereafter brought undrafted free agent rookie Max Hall into the fold.
Obviously, at this point, you know what happened next. Anderson was initially the clear backup to Leinart, but after training camp and a few preseason starts, he was named the starter. With Anderson as starter, Leinart was released and Hall passed up Skelton to snag the backup job
Now here's where my major questions exist:
Did some sort of light go off between February and August that showed Leinart wasn't the guy? General deductive reasoning would say that the organization had their collective minds made up on Leinart prior to the season. And if that was the case, why wasn't there a more aggressive approach towards acquiring a quarterback? I can't imagine it was some sort of surprise that Leinart was a terrible fit and that he had lost the respect of the locker room.
And look, I'm not even suggesting that they should have gone after McNabb here (though he would have almost guaranteed an NFC West crown), but something else should have been done.
In a former blog life, I once wrote about the aforementioned Bulger as being the middle class man's Kurt Warner. Bulger was an affordable option who had the appropriate skill set to do some of the same things that Warner did for the Cardinals. So why didn't they go after him?
Anderson was signed by the Cardinals on March 17. The comedy of this signing was that the reason Arizona felt so much pressure to pull the trigger on Anderson was that they were in a competitive bidding cycle with the Seahawks for his services. Seattle eventually landed Charlie Whitehurst in exchange for dropping 20 spots in the 2010 second round and a third round pick in 2011. The Rams then released Marc Bulger on April 5. That's all of 19 days.
Think about the ridiculousness of the previous paragraph. The Cardinals couldn't wait the 19 days (yes, that's the time between Anderson's signing and Bulger's release) necessary to snag a guy who some regard as one of the top 20 quarterbacks in the league. For the record, I do feel incredibly dirty linking to a Don Banks piece.
Now back to yesterday.
After a brutal "touchdown pass" to Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips, the wildly ineffective Anderson was yanked for Max Hall. In his four starts, Anderson has completed less than 52% of his passes and thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions. Basically, he's provided the answer to the question "Is Derek Anderson the Cardinals' answer at quarterback?" If you're really bad at inferring things, I'll just tell you that no, no he is not.
Though Ken Whisenhunt claims the quarterback decision for next week hasn't been made, it seems apparent that Hall, the undrafted rookie from BYU, is going to be forced into action against the defending Super Bowl champions next Sunday. Seems like an ideal situation.
With all due respect to Max Hall, I can't imagine that the Cardinals 2010 quarterbacking plan involved four starts from a Browns outcast followed by turning the keys over to a guy that was passed over in the draft 255 times six months ago. Something went wrong, something went terribly wrong.
I know a lot of people reading this have some sort of affection for Hall. Perhaps it's the glowing reviews he's received from Cardinal coaches or the fact that he torched the Redskins 5th team defense in the throwaway final preseason game, but I just can't see how he's the long-term answer.
In his first extended playing time, Hall put up reasonably acceptable passing numbers, but took six sacks, some of which can be pinned on flat out poor decision making. Certainly the decision making is a problem a young guy can solve, but what might be slightly more troublesome for him are the lack of physical skills, particularly his arm strength, size, and mobility -- things that helped him to go undrafted in the first place.
I could spend more time on hypotheticals and opinions, but frankly there isn't going to be a need for any that with Hall because by the end of the season, I'd imagine we'll have all the tape on him that we can handle.
In short order, we'll find out that he's not the answer and we'll be right back where we started several months ago -- looking for answers at the quarterback position.
This quarterback mess doesn't have to be Whisenhunt's waterloo. Sure, we're probably stuck for this year since there isn't a magic fix on the roster or somewhere in the UFL (Chris Greisen just sighed loudly). But in the long run, there is talent on the rest of this team and the quarterback situation can be fixed with one savvy offseason move.
If you're curious, I do know of a certain former Rams quarterback who only signed a one-year deal in Baltimore. Expect to read 1,500 words on that next January.