NFC West: 081712 preseason obs

Kevin KolbAP Photo/Rick ScuteriThere has been mounting criticism of Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb's presence in the pocket.

The Arizona Cardinals were so much better on several fronts during their 31-27 exhibition victory over Oakland on Friday night.

The game could wind up being a disaster for them anyway.

Left tackle and especially quarterback are two of the most important positions on an NFL roster. Bad things happened for the Cardinals at both of those positions. Let's consider the potential ramifications:

Left tackle

Starter Levi Brown suffered a torn triceps that will keep him out at least three months and possibly for the full 2012 season, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.

Brown, though heavily criticized as a pass protector in particular, is the best tackle on the roster. The Cardinals faced tough questions at tackle even when Brown was available to them. Subtracting Brown from the equation stings, especially because the Cardinals haven't done well drafting or developing younger players for the line.

Arizona is one of two NFL teams, with Tennessee being the other, to draft zero offensive linemen in the first three rounds over the past five drafts. A few good teams have similarly ignored the position early in those drafts -- New Orleans, Philadelphia and the New York Giants have each taken just one that early since 2008 -- but that is little consolation. The Cardinals could use young reinforcements.

Veteran Jeremy Bridges has played left tackle in the past. Perhaps he can do so again. He's tough and will battle. Ideally, though, Bridges would have provided a veteran fallback on the right side. Brown's absence could push Bridges to the left side. That could, in turn, push rookie fourth-round choice Bobby Massie into the lineup at right tackle on an accelerated schedule.

D'Anthony Batiste is another veteran tackle on the roster. He is 30 years old and has four career starts, all with Atlanta in 2007. D.J. Young, an undrafted free agent in 2011, worked at left tackle after the Cardinals lost Brown. He has never played in a regular-season game. Rookie fifth-round choice Senio Kelemete, a left tackle in college, has projected at guard with the Cardinals.

Quarterback

What began as a promising night for Kevin Kolb turned into another referendum on his overall suitability for the position. We've heard coaches and analysts criticize Kolb for bailing from the pocket prematurely when pressure arrives. We haven't heard these people say Kolb bailed prematurely out of fear, but Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly came right out and said it Friday.

"He is skittish. He is scared back there," Kelly said. "Anytime anybody gets close to him, he starts looking at the refs. As a defensive lineman, you love a quarterback like that. He ain't even trying to look at the routes no more. He is paying attention to us and you ain't going to get nothing done like that."

Kelly's criticisms line up with the comments Cardinals coaches have made about Kolb. They've wanted him to hang longer in the pocket. They've also said the Cardinals' quarterbacks failed to find wide-open receivers last season. Connecting the dots, it's tough to hang in the pocket if you're afraid, and tough to find wide-open receivers if you're focused on defensive linemen.

If Kelly is saying these things, some Cardinals players are likely thinking them, in my view. Throw in the March report suggesting the Cardinals had "lost confidence" in Kolb and the picture is not a pretty one for the quarterback.

We have so far seen in Kolb a player who has:

  • Received nearly $20 million from the team in about one year, setting high expectations;
  • Missed four games with a turf-toe injury and three more with a concussion -- this after failing to last one full game as Philadelphia's starter in 2010, suffering a concussion then as well;
  • Tossed an interception on his first preseason pass of 2012;
  • Exited the 2012 exhibition opener with an injury;
  • Taken three sacks, one for a safety, in limited work against the Raiders;
  • Invited the most damning kind of criticism a quarterback can take, this from an opponent.

Kolb has completed 5 of 15 passes for 47 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and four sacks in three relatively short preseason appearances.

I've gone from giving Kolb a slight edge to favoring Skelton by default to thinking there's little hope for Kolb to salvage the situation. The confidence I thought Kolb showed during the early days of his first training camp with Arizona (in 2011) was either imagined or fleeting.

The Cardinals can still come out OK if Kolb pulls a reversal or if Skelton winds up being the answer. Until then, Cardinals fans have reason to be a little skittish, even scared, as the regular season approaches.
Looking back on three things discussed here before Arizona's preseason home opener Friday night against Oakland, a game the Cardinals led at halftime 24-11 when I filed this entry, and eventually won 31-27:


1. Ticking QB clock. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton led first-half touchdown drives on short fields. Kolb completed a pass for a third-down conversion on the opening drive. He held the ball too long on subsequent drives. Pressure was a problem as well. Kolb did not handle it well. He took a penalty for intentional grounding at the Arizona 1-yard line, then got sacked for a safety on the next play. Oakland defensive lineman Tommy Kelly ran off the field and yelled of Kolb, “That boy’s scared,” according to the Raiders’ preseason TV coverage. Kolb completed 3 of 6 passes for 22 yards.

Skelton completed all three pass attempts for 23 yards on his only meaningful first-half drive, the final one for a touchdown to fullback Anthony Sherman.

Rookie Ryan Lindley opened the second half as the Cardinals' quarterback. Skelton hardly played as a result, leaving the impression coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't looking for additional information on his top two passers. By then, the Cardinals had also lost left tackle Levi Brown to a triceps injury, raising additional questions about the offensive line. Pass protection was already an issue.

Skelton would appear to have the edge in this competition, in my view. Two exhibition games remain, however.

2. RB health. Ryan Williams played in a game for the first time since suffering a torn patella during the preseason 364 days earlier. This was a promising performance for Williams. He carried five times for 25 yards and a touchdown, with a long run of 15 yards. Alfonso Smith took over from there. Starter Beanie Wells, back at practice recently after undergoing offseason knee surgery, did not play.


3. Outside pass-rush. Outside linebacker Quentin Groves was the player I had in mind, but the Cardinals got most of their pressure up the middle, at least in the first half. Defensive end Darnell Dockett drew a penalty for hitting Carson Palmer in the legs. Nose tackle David Carter got pressure to force an incomplete pass near the goal line. Reggie Walker and Stewart Bradley got pressure on inside blitzes. I’ll check out the second half and report back Saturday if warranted.

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