Reflections on Kolb's first Cardinals season

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
1:35
PM ET
Kevin Kolb will emerge from the 2011 NFL season with an incomplete grade, whether or not he plays for the Arizona Cardinals in their Week 17 game against Seattle.

The reviews have been mostly negative. Kolb was the starter when the Cardinals were opening the season with a 1-6 record. The team won six of its next seven games, but Kolb was the primary quarterback for only one of them. Backup John Skelton hasn't shined in relief, but he did play well enough late in a few victories for the Cardinals to capitalize on defensive improvements and big plays on special teams.

Kolb suffered injuries from head (concussion) to toe (and foot) this season. Durability was a problem for him previously in Philadelphia. Upon seeing Kolb at Cardinals camp, his demeanor and rapport with teammates instantly impressed me. But he also appeared less sturdy looking than I had anticipated. He will benefit from a full offseason working under the Cardinals' noted strength and conditioning coach John Lott.

A full offseason in Arizona should also help Kolb make a smoother transition into an offense that was new to him.

The highlight for Kolb this season was probably the 73-yard touchdown pass he threw to Larry Fitzgerald at Washington in Week 2. Kolb knew he was going to take a crushing hit on the play. He waited long enough for Fitzgerald to get deep, sacrificing his body to deliver in the clutch. The play gave the Cardinals a 21-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

With and without Kolb, the Cardinals have struck for far more big plays this season than last. They have more pass plays covering 40-plus yards (14) than ever team but the New York Giants and Detroit Lions. Even the Green Bay Packers (13), New England Patriots (12) and New Orleans Saint (10) have fewer. Arizona had only three such plays last season, tied for the NFL low. Larry Fitzgerald's yards per reception has spiked from career-low levels in 2009 (11.3) and 2010 (12.6) to a career-best 17.8. Those are encouraging signs.

But it's also clear the team needs to improve its pass protection. Kolb needs to gain a better feel for the pocket and when to get rid of the football. He need to improve dramatically on third down, as the chart indicates. A deeper knowledge and comfort with the offense should help in those areas, but there are no guarantees. The Cardinals could be back in the market for another starting quarterback one year from now.

As Kent Somers noted Wednesday, the team plans to pay a $7 million bonus to Kolb this offseason, assuring Kolb's return to the team for a second season. That makes sense given what the Cardinals have invested and the alternatives likely available to them. It's also worth pointing out that other quarterbacks acquired by trade enjoyed success after inauspicious debuts with their new teams. The chart below shows stats for Kolb and future Pro Bowlers Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Schaub in their first seasons with new teams.

Hasselbeck in particular struggled during an injury-marred first season with Seattle after the Seahawks acquired him from Green Bay. He was 26 years old in 2001, his first year with the team. Kolb is 27. Unlike Kolb this season, Hasselbeck in 2001 was running the same offense he had learned from the same head coach, Mike Holmgren. But the Seahawks benched him after one year and nearly gave up on him altogether before a season-ending injury to Trent Dilfer gave Hasselbeck another chance.

There is still time for Kolb, in other words.
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