What To Do About the Quarterbacks?

Assoicate Editor
Posted Jun 22, 2006


There are, believe it or not, those out there who would tell us that football is a waste of our time. They would say things like, "If you spent half the time you spend thinking about football reading, you'd have made it through three libraries by now." Those people don't care how long it takes Matt Leinart to win the starting job...we do.

I often wonder what people who don’t follow sports think about.  Do they take the time and energy that you and I focus on sports and concentrate on reading, gaining new knowledge, and pondering philosophical questions?  Instead of wondering how many yards Tiki Barber will have this year, or what effect rules changes will have on their fantasy teams, do they think about the density of recycled steel or the air pressure of a certain room at a certain altitude?  If that’s what they think about, then good for them.  I’d rather follow football.  And I’m constantly thinking about things that don’t have any bearing on physics or world affairs.

In what will become a weekly feature, I’ll tell you what’s on my mind and what I think about.  It all relates to football and all relates to the Cardinals, so you’re in the right place.  But if I start talking about Sartre’s effect on modern thinking, please do send me some hate mail.

On my mind this week is the quarterback situation that the Arizona Cardinals currently face.  They have Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Rohan Davey, and John Navarre.  I listed them in order of skill and likelihood to start/success that they would have if they did actually start.  In my mind, at this moment, there’s no real difference between Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart.  I understand that Leinart throws prettier passes, is younger, more durable, and was a top 10 pick in this year’s draft, but Warner is still a two time MVP and a guy that was 5-2 before being benched in favor of Eli Manning in 2004.

Davey and Navarre are a wash.  And we should all pray long and hard that neither of those two individuals are asked to marshal the offense at any time; this season or next.  So let’s turn a blind eye to the fact that Warner hasn’t played a full season since 2001 and that Leinart could very well get massacred behind a suspect offensive line in his rookie campaign and try to understand which gentleman would make the most sense under center for the Cardinals.

We’ll have to see what happens during Rookie Camps and Training Camp, but as of right now, it’s Warner.  He has the best grasp of the system, the confidence of his teammates, experience (and significant success) as a starter in the NFL, and he’s still one of the best decision makers in the league… when he finally gets around to making a decision, that is.  Assuming that he remains upright for the entire year, he’s the best, safest choice.  Then again, to make that assumption is to set yourself up for major future disappointment.

Leinart has considerable skill and considerable potential.  While he was lauded as being the most “NFL ready” quarterback in this year’s class, there is a tremendous difference between the college game and the pro game.  Young QBs like Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino that step right into an offense and have success are generally more a product of their system than the reason the system works.

And, given the talent that the Cardinals have on their roster, added to Dennis Green’s history of statistical dominance in the passing game no matter who’s behind center, I have a feeling that just about anyone can come in and put up numbers.  The key component for this year will be finding the guy who can put the ball in the end zone and win gamesNeil Rackers didn’t set the NFL record for most field goals in season last year simply because he’s really good at kicking from 50 yards out.  He set it, in large part, because the Cardinals too often settled for field goals when they should’ve scored touchdowns.

With Edgerrin James in the mix, some of that should change.  They’ll be able to hand him the ball near the goal line and should be able to effectively use play-action.  But, he can’t do it by himself.  Early on in the season, Warner will be the best guy to make the right decision at the right time where it matters; in the red zone.  As the season wears on, however, Warner may start to deteriorate mentally and physically.  This should only be a problem if the Cardinals are winning games and have a decent shot at making the playoffs.  And, in general, Warner is only a problem in that situation.

If the Cardinals come out to a fast start and go into their bye at 6-2 or 5-3 with Warner at the helm, no one will be calling for Leinart.  If they start 3-5 or 2-6, Leinart should be and will be called upon.  However, the danger comes in the Cardinals getting off to a fast start, sticking with Warner, and having him fall apart come Week 12.  At that point, Leinart can step in, but there will be little to no support for him in that situation.

Best of all possible worlds, they get off to a fast start (which is not only possible, but likely, given their schedule).  Warner is the guy.  Leinert learns under his tutelage.  Warner manages to finish out the season and they make the playoffs.  It’s more likely that Warner gets hurt in Week 6 and Leinart is pressed into action too soon, but let’s dream for a moment.

If Warner does manage to finish the season and the Cardinals do manage to make it to the playoffs, we will not have a situation like the one in San Diego.  The primary reason for this is that Warner’s much too old to be a viable option for the future.  A playoff season this year is significantly more important to the organization than getting Leinart reps this year.  All a playoff season does is move Leinart’s timetable up a year.  Instead of replacing an injured/ineffective Warner in Week 6 of the 2006 season, he’ll simply step in Week 6 of 2007.

Leinart will start.  He will be the quarterback of this franchise.  The only question is when.  The only answer is: as soon as Warner self-destructs.



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