Might the Patriots' Week 2 opponent, Arizona, be engaging in some injury-related gamesmanship?
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has not declared Kevin Kolb his starter against New England even though John Skelton appears "doubtful" and Kolb took the meaningful practice reps this week. ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported Kolb will start. It's been difficult to realistically envision any other scenario under the circumstances.
Kolb led the winning drive against Seattle in the opener after Skelton departed the field on a cart, having suffered a sprained ankle. This game against New England provides the Cardinals an opportunity to watch Kolb perform over an extended period without deciding on him as the longer-term starter. It's a good situation for Arizona after Skelton struggled in the opener.
Among the things I'll be watching for from Kolb against the Patriots:
Protection: The Cardinals' offensive line appears vulnerable in this area, particularly on the road. How will Kolb respond? Will he revert to bad habits? In the past, he has sometimes bailed from the pocket too quickly and without a clear plan. Arizona likes its quarterbacks to set up deep in the pocket and throw from there.
Secondary targets: Arizona runs its passing game through Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald will get targets regularly, most likely. The Cardinals think secondary receivers, notably Andre Roberts, have been running open without getting the ball frequently enough (last season in particular). Let's see how well Kolb gets other players involved. He did well in finding Roberts for the winning touchdown reception last week. Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley subsequently lamented making an aggressive defensive call on the play.
Fun factor. No one expects Kolb to skip around the field like Brett Favre, but body language matters. Can the success Kolb enjoyed against Seattle propel him forward? Will he look like he's having fun out there? Will he look like the leader of the offense? Some success would help, of course
The chart, compiled with data from ESPN Stats & Information, shows Kolb's production by game during his Arizona tenure. I've included one row showing Brady's production in the same weeks. The final row shows how all other NFL quarterbacks -- all but Kolb and Brady -- have produced over the same span.
The second-to-last column shows success rate, defined by ESPN's analytics department as those plays improving a team's expected points. The final column shows QBR scores (100 maximum, 50 average). By that measure, Kolb has been at his best during season openers. He was also above average in Week 2 last season, a narrow defeat at Washington.