With defense on board, Cards turn to offense

Darnell Dockett (Getty)

It took five years of trying, but the Cardinals defense finally played the way Ken Whisenhunt envisioned. Now the offense must do the same.

It took five years of trying, but the Cardinals defense finally played the way Ken Whisenhunt envisioned. Now it's up to Whisenhunt to fix an offense that's been the main reason the team finished out of the playoffs for the past two seasons.

The defense showed great improvement under Ray Horton, the third defensive coordinator Whisenhunt hired in his five years in Arizona. The Cardinals led the league in third-down percentage and were second in red zone defense.

That unit must concentrate on giving up fewer big plays, but by the end of the season, it was forming into a dominating group.

The offense, meanwhile, hasn't produced since Kurt Warner retired at the end of the 2009 season. The quarterback play has been inconsistent, and improving that will be the top focus of the offseason.

Whisenhunt's first step was fire quarterbacks coach Chris Miller, who spent three seasons in Arizona. He was also looking at altering other parts of his offensive staff and expressed interest in re-hiring Todd Haley to run the offense.

The biggest task for whoever runs the offense next year will be fixing what's wrong at quarterback. The Cardinals will bring Kolb back. They will pay him a $7 million option bonus this spring, because they can't afford not to.

John Skelton doesn't appear ready to step in, and it's doubtful the Cardinals would release Kolb and explore other options.

Kolb will be 28 when next season starts. While he missed seven games this season because of injuries, the Cardinals think those were freak occurrences and that Kolb's toughness should not be questioned.

Kolb is likely to enter the offseason as the starter, but Skelton made up some ground by going 5-2 in his starts this season.

"One thing that's always been consistent is we're going to play the best player, the player who gives us a chance to win," Whisenhunt said. "So every position is open to competition. That's the way we've always been. As far as how those guys (quarterbacks) stack up or where they are. That's all part of the evaluations we do in the offseason. I'm excited about all three of our quarterbacks."

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