Just when you thought it could not get uglier for the Cardinals, it did. The loss yesterday, 19-6, to the rejuvenated St. Louis Rams, was the most pitiful performance yet by the offense, which has not produced a touchdown in eight consecutive quarters. Begin to think “NFL joke” here, a sudden and alarming return to what many see as “the old Cardinals” prior to the unexpected second coming of quarterback Kurt Warner, 2007-2009.
While the blame for a 3-9 season and dim prospects in the final four games have unfairly dog-piled on Warner’s replacement, the struggling Derek Anderson, the coach Ken Whisenhunt deserves most of the black stars. Black stars, yes, though much of the team’s nose-dive from a 10-6 record last season can be layed to ownership. The Bidwill family obviously put the brakes on salary-commitments this year in light of a possible 2011 lockout. The result was predictable. Even less talent on a team whose talent level was low and disguised by Warner’s magic.
But surely the Whiz, the quick-fading name for the once-adored coach, did not handle well that mandate from the Bidwills. Here are arguably four of his biggest mistakes.
- The Matt Leinart fiasco.
- Refusal to tweak the offense for a different kind of quarterback.
- The Max Hall Experiment.
- No offensive coordinator.
The tip-off to this horrible season was the demotion and release of Leinart prior to the season. Not that Leinart would have been able overcome the offense’s intrinsic problems like poor line play, lack of consistently-productive running backs, and a receiving corps that was not as good as anticipated. But Leinart’s departure no doubt led to a split in the Cardinals fan-base and an increasingly negative view of Anderson. And in no time the once-revered Whisenhunt found himself and his staff besieged with animosity at the slightest faux pas. And in turn, the Cardinals lost their home-field advantage. The fans gave up on them long before they should have.
Rather than play to Anderson’s strengths, Whisenhunt stayed with the Warner-style passing. And with predictable results. Anderson’s strength is his big arm and throwing downfield, not pinpoint passing. Too often you would see DA throw a successful deep pass or two and then, ala Warner, try to hit receivers in the flats. Surely there was a way to improve the most gifted quarterback on the team but no solution was found or for that matter tried.
Whisenhunt panicked when the crowd clamored for change at quarterback. By inserting as starter the undrafted rookie Max Hall, the coach cost the Cardinals two games. It was obvious that Hall was far from ready for the bigtime, and surely at that point Cardinals players began questioning their leader.
The failure of this team was no doubt stamped in stone at whatever point the decision was made to not hire an offensive coordinator. Many see the coordinator simply as the play-caller on game day. But probably there is no more important job for the coordinator than what he does during practices. For Whiz to call plays, Mike Miller and Russ Grim to split coordinating the passing and running games, respectively, is clumsy to be halfway kind. Who coordinates then the running and passing? Whisenhunt, it is to be assumed.
There has been no detailed reporting how this crazy hierarchy works or how much time it is required for the head coach to manage it and other details not related to offense. Stretched too thin comes to mind. And with new quarterbacks, none as experienced and talented as the departed Warner who was capable of designing his own game plans, having a top-rated offensive coordinator might have made a big difference with Anderson. But hiring such a coordinator would cost money and a commitment of more than one year. The Bidwills apparently were not willing to commit to what could prove an idle season in 2011.
Only after the looming labor crisis is settled will anyone know how serious the Bidwills are about building a winner out here in the desert. The Warner years were a fluke. The organization was bent on a life with Leinart and fell by his injury into the greatness of what Warner had left. In many ways, Ken Whisenhunt has taken the fall for the owners. But in doing so he mishandled much of it. The so-called transition year could have been more palatable.