Arizona’s Decision Not To Sign A Veteran QB Looms Large
Despite facing numerous challenges this season, the Arizona Cardinals have impressed even the most skeptical observers.
Week after week, injuries have plagued both offense and defense, yet the team has persevered, largely thanks to the guidance of head coach Bruce Arians.
However, their recent performance against the Seahawks may signal a potential downfall, casting doubt on their playoff prospects.
I believe a different approach from their “Coach of the Year” candidate could have prevented this.
Looking back at last season, the Cardinals finished with a 10-6 record, a feat accomplished only twice in the past 37 years.
This success bolstered the team’s confidence in the foundation laid by Arians in his inaugural year as head coach.
Quarterback Carson Palmer experienced a resurgence, having been acquired from Oakland for a fifth-round pick and a conditional pick in 2014.
Under Arians’ tutelage, Palmer showcased some of his finest football to date. In my view, Arians is a true maestro regarding quarterbacks.
His ability to blend unpredictability with precision and balance poses a daunting challenge for defensive coordinators.
Arians’ track record of elevating quarterbacks to an elite level dates back to 1998 when he served as the QB coach for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis (1998-00).
He also excelled as the offensive coordinator for Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh (2004-11), culminating in a Super Bowl victory in 2009, and as the head coach/offensive coordinator for the Colts alongside Andrew Luck (2012).
Arians has always commanded immense respect within NFL coaching circles and is known for his unwavering loyalty to coaches and players.
He has remained true to his hard-nosed East Coast mentality, never straying far from his roots.
In 2012, he was named Associated Press Coach of the Year while filling in for the ailing head coach Chuck Pagano.
Many believed that Arians made an even stronger case for the award in 2013 by doubling the Cardinals’ win total from the previous season (5-11 to 10-6).
To add to his impressive resume, Arians has guided Arizona to a franchise-tying 11 wins this season with four different starting quarterbacks.
The Cardinals haven’t just faced quarterback injuries but also at other key positions.
Running back Andre Ellington was ruled out for the season in early December due to a sports hernia injury.
Ellington’s rushing played a crucial role in maintaining balance with Arians’ play-action passing strategy and was a reliable option in the screen and passing game.
Additionally, tight end Troy Niklas, known for his prowess as a run/pass blocker, has been absent since early November due to a season-ending ankle sprain.
On the defensive side, the Cardinals have witnessed significant changes in their front seven this season.
Injuries to inside linebacker Daryl Washington, outside linebackers Matt Shaughnessy and John Abraham, and defensive ends Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and Ed Stinson would have posed a significant challenge for most teams.
However, Arizona has managed to maintain its status as a top-five defense, largely thanks to coordinator Todd Bowles’ creative blitz packages that compensate for the lack of experience and talent. Arians’ “next man up” approach has proven effective.
Nevertheless, since losing Palmer, the Cardinals have encountered difficulties in putting points on the board, which inevitably takes a toll on the defense.
The early victories for Arizona resulted from a well-rounded team effort, but without consistent offensive output, it has become challenging for the Cardinals to contain opposing offenses.
Musical Chairs at QB
In Week 1, Palmer suffered a throwing shoulder injury, prompting Arizona to start Drew Stanton (who had previously played under Arians in Indianapolis) in Week 2 against the New York Giants and again in a Week 3 victory against San Francisco.
However, Stanton suffered a concussion in the third quarter of a Week 5 loss to Denver.
This led to the entry of Logan Thomas, a fifth-round pick from 2014, who finished the game, marking the third different starting quarterback in just five weeks.
Palmer made a triumphant return, leading the team to a win against the Washington Redskins, setting off a streak of victories that resulted in an impressive 7-1 record heading into Week 10.
He started against the St. Louis Rams but, unfortunately, suffered a torn ACL late in the game, ending his season.
Stanton secured the victory, leaving the Cardinals at 8-1 and the top of the NFC West despite being without their starting quarterback.
It was at this juncture that the NFC West indeed became a whirlwind of unpredictability.
Despite the commendable job Arians has done this season, his most significant oversight may have been not bringing in a veteran quarterback once Palmer was placed on injured reserve.
While Arians expresses confidence in Stanton’s ability to lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, there would have been no harm in utilizing that roster spot to bring in someone with playoff experience, such as Rex Grossman, or perhaps even considering a long-shot like Kurt Warner (although Kurt’s last game was five seasons ago and there would be logistical challenges and timing constraints due to his reserve/retired list status).
Unfortunately, Stanton suffered a sprained MCL in Week 15 against the Rams and now faces the possibility of being sidelined for the rest of the season after contracting an infection in the same knee.
It appears that the infection may have originated from a PHP injection administered to expedite his recovery process.
This is a common practice among players, mainly when aiming for a playoff return.
Stanton had to undergo an arthroscopic procedure to eradicate the infection, which could lead to an extended recovery period and potentially have lasting effects on his knee.
Regrettably, Stanton finds himself in this situation, but if the Cardinals had signed a veteran quarterback, they might not be facing this predicament.
Instead, the Cardinals brought in Ryan Lindley, who is well-acquainted with Arians’ offense after his tenure with the team in 2013.
While familiarity is valuable, it doesn’t outweigh the experience of a seasoned veteran.
Lindley holds a 1-4 record as a starter and has yet to throw a touchdown pass, having accumulated eight interceptions.
In contrast, someone like Grossman, with a record of 25-22 and 56 touchdowns to 60 interceptions, along with an NFC Championship under his belt, presents a more compelling option.
The truth is, the Cardinals have maintained a .500 record (3-3) since Palmer’s injury.
Their mid-week flip-flopping on the starting quarterback, initially naming Logan Thomas before reverting to Lindley, suggests discomfort with both options remaining on their roster.
Despite holding the second spot in the NFC West, they’ll need nothing short of a miracle to secure a victory today against San Francisco or in the Wild Card round next week.
Eventually, they’ll likely have to face the defending Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks, a matchup the Cardinals seem ill-prepared for without the team’s earlier season balance.