TEMPE, Ariz. — As soon as a "Monday Night Football" game was in hand, commentator Don Meredith would break out in song.
“Turn out the lights, the party’s over,” he bellowed into his microphone.
No doubt he voiced an observation of that game at hand, but the refrain could also signal the end of a competitive season for the Arizona Cardinals.
Now mired in a six-game losing streak and with little hope for excitement or exhilaration, the Cardinals now limp toward the finish line to complete a dismal season once filled with promise.
The maladies and difficulties which plague this team originate from the offensive side of the ball. Going forward, there is little evidence to suggest hope and good fortune will intervene anytime soon.
After a debilitating 23-19 loss to Atlanta last Sunday, in which the Falcons turned the ball over six times and still won, the Cardinals passed the point of no return.
Yet, players maintain a different vision.
“Look, we have six more games and it’s not over until it’s over,” said ILB Daryl Washington, who led the Cardinals with 11 tackles and one interception in the Atlanta defeat. “I’m still positive, and all we can do at this point is stand together. We need to create that mode of confidence and self-esteem.”
To address and possibly correct the current malaise, head coach Ken Whisenhunt vowed to pull players who did not perform. Some considered this a threat, and others a promise. In the Atlanta game, Whisenhunt fulfilled what became a promise, and players began to fall like bowling pins.
First, Pro Bowl SS Adrian Wilson was shown the bench on passing downs. Then, WR Michael Floyd and QB John Skelton where similarly directed down a comparable path after their troubles in the Falcons game were magnified.
Whisenhunt’s frustration is mounting. He appears to be at a loss regarding how to make his team better, and in his Monday briefing with the Arizona media, he went as far to suggest changes could be made among his assistant coaches.
“It’s been painful for me and I share our fans’ frustration,” Whisenhunt said. “I want to win. Where we are offensively, you have a create a sense of urgency to make plays. We’re working hard and that shows the character of the team. You need to put in the right guys who give us the best chance to win.”
Regarding the play-calling, there is no clear explanation on which coach is directing signals. It’s widely believed Whisenhunt has shown too much loyalty in Mike Miller, the offensive coordinator whom Whisenhunt brought to Arizona in 2007 from the Steelers' organization.
If Miller is calling the shots, his play-calling is pathetic. Miller has not incorporated mid-range passes to sustain drives, no slants over the middle to defuse a hard pass rush, and has shown no creativity in drawing up a competitive game plan.
Some now argue that quarterbacks coach John McNulty, in his fourth year with the Cardinals but first as QB coach, should have autonomy in calling offensive plays.
For now, Whisenhunt is not tipping his hand but only told reporters, “we have to work hard to make plays, and that’s what it’s really all about.”
From Whisenhunt’s perspective, Skelton not only failed “to make plays,“ but did not appear on the same page with the rest of the offensive personnel. To jump-start a lagging and suffering offense, Whisenhunt pulled Skelton with 9:32 left in the second quarter of the Atlanta game, and for practical purposes, we likely have seen the last of Skelton in Cardinal Red.
That's no surprise.
In his performance to date, Skelton displayed a penchant for throwing a less-than accurate ball, throwing to areas where was the route was drawn differently, and the inability to convert critical third-down plays.
Whisenhunt gave Skelton just enough rope to hang himself against the Falcons, and Skelton, leading 10-0 late in the first quarter and with a clear opening to put the Falcons away early, missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the corner of the endzone. The pass was not close to the receiver, and though Fitzgerald was open, the pass actually sailed wide and out of bounds.
As a result, the Cardinals settled for a field goal, but the missed connection to Fitzgerald remains systematic of the Cardinals' inability to generate a creditable offense and finish off drives into the red zone for touchdowns.
Enter Ryan Lindley, a sixth-round rookie from San Diego State, who proceeded to complete 9-of-20 passes for 64 yards and a 52.9 passer rating. On Lindley’s second pass attempt, he connected with Floyd for 17 yards, his longest completion of the game, and that was in the middle of the second quarter.
“Statistically, there’s nothing to write home about,” Whisenhunt said of Lindley. “He did look comfortable in the pocket, made some good throws. I thought he handled himself well.”
Still, the odds are strong Lindley will start this week against the Rams at home. He certainly needs help from the running game, which has been inconsistent at best. While LeRod Stephens-Howling (22 carries, 127 yards against Atlanta) was pressed into service in recent weeks, the Cardinals are happy to get RB Beanie Wells back this week.
Out since Week Three with an injured toe, Wells gained 76 yards in 29 carries (2.6 yards per carry) in his three games this season, not exactly Pro Bowl numbers. Whisenhunt said he looks forward to Wells’ return, and added, “he looks good physically in practice, so you’d like to think that can help us.”
At this point, pundits continue wonder if anything or anybody can truly help the Cardinals' offense.