If there has ever been an undeserved whipping boy for the Cardinals, it has been quarterback Derek Anderson. He was blamed by many again yesterday for an embarrassing 36-18 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Blamed despite a porous defense, dropped passes, no running game, poor pass protection and questionable play calling by the coach, Ken Whisenhunt.
In its print edition this morning, the Arizona Republic‘s lead photo in Sports showed Anderson with head bowed walking off the field after the game. The Republic could not have stated it more clear: Derek Anderson is a colossal failure, the poster-child for defeat, the one thing holding the Cardinals back. Without question the simplistic media coverage has failed miserably to identify the root of the Cardinals sad season. Ownership’s retrenchment is the elephant in the room.
Poor DA, as he is called. He never had a chance here. He was DOA from Cleveland. He was vilified from the moment he took over the starting job in preseason when the expected starter, Matt Leinart, was released in what appears a massive dumping of expensive contracts by the organization. You do not have to be a NASA engineer to see the team’s depleted talent pool since the end of last season.
As for DA, this hatred directed his way must hurt. He is without doubt, along with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the best thing this beleaguered team has going for it right now. The defense is in shambles, special teams lost its ace kickoff returner, LaRod Stephens-Howling to injury, punter Ben Graham has gone south and the distrustful Whisenhunt puts the brakes on DA just when everything seems to be humming on offense.
You have to go no further than Sunday’s loss to see the obstacles DA has to shoulder. A fourth straight defeat, by the way, that left the Cardinals with a 3-6 record and at the bottom of the NFL’s weakest division. This all began several weeks ago when Whisenhunt listened to the crowd, panicked and inserted the unready Max Hall as the starter. The Hall Experiment led to two defeats that should have been in the win column. Perhaps it was at that point the team lost faith in its coach.
Those DA bashers must have had blinders on Sunday to miss the potential that rests in this quarterback’s strong right arm. He drove the Cardinals 52 yards for a TD after the opening kickoff, throwing for 46 yards that included a dazzling accurate pass of 33 yards along the sidelines to Fitzgerald who made another of his acrobatic catches.
The problem with that drive for the time-possession freaks is that it took hardly any time off the clock. Only 2:12, and that, they might say, did not give the defense time enough to prepare, to rest and think, har-har, about their first trip onto the field. And look what happened, these freaks would say. The defense allowed the passing of Matt Hasselbeck free rein to travel 77 yards and tie the score. Let’s blame DA.
It was obvious at that point the Cardinals defense was headed for a long afternoon and by halftime the unit had relinquished 273 yards to the comfortable Hasselbeck who was seldom touched by the Cardinals feeble pass rush. If Hasselbeck would not have broken the wrist to his non-passing hand in the second quarter, it is likely he would have reached close to 500 yards. Not a bad afternoon’s work.
And it seemed at that point too Whisenhunt was going to have to open up the passing game. No short passes all the time. Throw long. Be daring. But alas, he chose what is his nature. He applied the brakes with conservative plays, Warner-like passes into the flats — and in essence chose death over life.
Whisenhunt it seems lost his team — at least for this day– in the first half. On the second series, rather than keep the throttle open, he ran Tim Hightower on first down for 1 yards and, rather than keep throwing long, watched as DA tossed two incompleted short passes to well-covered receivers. These were plays not designed for options, as if DA has much time anyway in the pocket to look for second and third choices.
The Cardinals offense that half had two glittering opportunities wasted, largely the fault of conservative and strange play calls. With the ball on Seattle’s 33 and sure points ahead, Whisenhunt chose to run on first down, a net of two yards, and then on second down, of all things, tried the “wildcat” offense with wide receiver Early Doucet who struggled for a couple more yards. Then on third and 6, DA, perhaps thunderstruck by the play calling, stupidly took a sack, putting the Cardinals out of field-goal range.
On the fourth series, DA marched the Cardinals downfield. But on first down and goal at the Seattle 6, the coach did the predictable. He ran Hightower at left end for two yards. He then tried a short pass to Fitzgerald, a pass no doubt Seattle had seen over and over on film. Fitzgerald comes off a screen by a teammate, hoping to scrape off the defender. DA threw the pass. It was a completion, yes, but Seattle was ready. The play lost a yard. Most disheartening was the third down call, a run into the middle of the field by Hightower for no gain. One had the feeling then Whisenhunt was settling on a field goal and was too scared of DA throwing an interception.
So, at a time, the Cardinals could have put pressure on the Seahawks, it was a disaster. Rather than have 10 points tucked into their pads, they had but three. And along with that a growing sense the coach had no faith in DA’s downfield passing game. The Cardinals came out for the third quarter and played listlessly until the game was virtually out of reach.
In his column this morning, the Republic‘s Dan Bickley wrote, “These days, the Cardinals only chance of winning is to play conservatively on offense and hope the defense rises to the occasion. And yet that defense is getting torched with regularity, with no answers in sight.”
That is ridiculous medicine for the offense. The Cardinals should not play more conservatively. They should open it up. Throw deep on first down. Take chances. That is the only way they can win now that they are truly exposed on defense.
This year has been a failure of Whisenhunt to change with the times. He has failed to mesh his play calling with the talents of DA. It’s as if the coach thinks Kurt Warner is still taking the snaps. Derring-do is his only hope now. It may not work. But it is DA’s strength.
Contrary to his first three seasons, Whisenhunt has showing himself to be a mortal after all in this, the fourth. Cardinal fans are coming to the realization that it was Warner, not so much Whisenhunt, that led to the good times and the Super Bow.
The Whiz is saddled with much less talent team than last season when he had Warner. Not his fault. But this is not Pittsburgh where he cut his coaching teeth. There is no great Steelers defense out there to save the day.
It is time to let DA be the player that he can be, whatever that is, good or bad, and let the chips fall where they may. Could it get worse than Sunday?