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Realistic expectations for Cards' Kevin Kolb

10/3/2011

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Two months ago Tuesday, Kevin Kolb took his first practice snap with the Arizona Cardinals, cramming to learn a new offense with only seven regular-season starts on his resume.

Factoring only for those variables, no reasonable person would expect Kolb to rank among the top quarterbacks in the NFL after Week 4.

But there are more variables, including one that is difficult to overlook: the statement Arizona made in acquiring Kolb and signing him to a five-year contract averaging $12.6 million annually.

What Arizona has invested in Kolb invites higher expectations than if the Cardinals had merely signed him to a wait-and-see deal. Kolb hasn't been able to stop the Cardinals from losing their last three games by a combined eight points even thought Arizona had possession with a chance to tie or go ahead in each defeat.

Kolb admitted taking a step backward against Seattle during Week 3. It would be hard to say he took a step forward against the Giants.

The 2010 Cardinals were one game better in the standings at this point in the season. Their quarterbacks, though lagging well behind Kolb in NFL passer rating at the four game-mark, actually performed slightly better according to Total QBR (see chart). The 2010 Cardinals' quarterbacks dropped off significantly at about this time last season, finishing the season with a 23.6 QBR. Arizona expects Kolb to trend upward as the season progresses and he gets more comfortable.

Cardinals QB Comparison: Weeks 1-4

"The No. 1 thing is we're asking him to do some things in our offense that he hasn't done before as far as reads and checks and those kinds of things," coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday. "I don't know the degree of what he did in Philly, but I know it's different. It takes time."

Kolb took a costly sack Sunday when the team was setting up a screen pass on second-and-1 from the New York Giants' 29-yard line. The Cardinals trailed, 31-27, and about 1:20 remained before the play. Kolb needed to get rid of the ball in that situation, Whisenhunt said. Instead, the sack proved devastating. The Cardinals eventually turned the ball over on downs.

If Kolb doesn't seem to be moving with purpose in the pocket, that could be because he hasn't grasped the offense well enough to act appropriately on instinct. Or, it could mean Kolb lacks the instincts to play the position well.

It's too early to know one way or the other.

According to Whisenhunt, Kolb grasps what a quarterback must do in each situation. Acting properly on each of those things in the moment can be tough for a quarterback with relatively little game experience. The lengthy explanation Whisenhunt gave on the subject hinted at some of the the complexities

"That is understanding what reads we're looking for, whether to look at the safety. A lot of times it's the front. He has to know what type of front we have and how to make a run check and there's a lot of things on his plate in addition to making sure everyone lines up right, remembering what the snap count is, the 25-second clock and where that is, so all of those things will get better and more comfortable and will allow him to think about the progressions, where he wants to go with the ball and, for instance, if there is a specific play where we say, 'OK, now, look, if it's Cover 2, you know your read is supposed to take you to the left, but make sure you check the seam on the right side because their backer has a tendency to play to the weak side a little more and it will open up that seam.'

"Easy for you to say and see, but to be able to process all of those things I talked about and still think about that one little detail, it just takes some reps and some time. That is what we are working through. But you see progress."

Whisenhunt pointed to the 73-yard touchdown pass Kolb threw to Larry Fitzgerald during the fourth quarter at Washington in Week 2. Kolb anticipated the blitz from his blind side, rolled to his right, waited for Fitzgerald to break open and delivered a pass right before taking a huge hit from linebacker London Fletcher.

"I think he manages the huddle very well, he understands the concepts of the plays, he can get guys in the right spots, he understands the concepts of what we're trying to get done," Whisenhunt said. "But when you step up to the line of scrimmage and you're having to do that when the real bullets are flying, the only way you get better at it is getting more reps at it."