GLENDALE, Ariz. — Throw out Ryan Lindley’s first drive in last Sunday’s home game, and then it was business as usual for the Cardinals.
In his initial command as an NFL starter against the Rams last Sunday, Lindley, the Cardinals’ second pick on the sixth round out of San Diego State, engineered a 15-play, 91-yard scoring march to near-perfection. When RB Beanie Wells crossed the goal line from one yard out, Lindley help pushed the Cardinals into a quick and energetic 7-0 lead.
Wells’ score occurred with 2:41 left in the opening period, but from that point on, Lindley threw four picks, two of which were returned for touchdowns by Rams rookie CB Janoris Jenkins, and finished with a disastrous 44.7 passer rating for the game. The result was a 14-point loss at home to St. Louis, upping Arizona's losing streak to seven games.
A new quarterback for Arizona, but an old and sorry story line.
This time, and for the past seven weeks, it was more of the same, and more of Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt sounding like a broken record, “we’re working hard and need to get better.”
Give it up, coach. The fans are tired of the constant, broken rhetoric.
The seventh straight bomb came by way of a two-touchdown defeat to the Rams , and the last time the Cardinals dropped seven in a row was just three years ago. That was also under Whisenhunt‘s watch, and now the turn of events borders on the speechless.
In the process, the Cardinals are the first team in NFL history to start a season with four straight victories and then drop seven in a row.
For the past two months, players and coaches tried to put a positive spin on a season which spiraled out of control weeks ago. There was even a hint to Whisenhunt’s future when a reporter asked, after the Rams game, about whether the coach's days ahead in Arizona were in question.
“That’s part of the business,” Whisenhunt replied. “Nobody feels worse about this team than we do. I’m disappointed for our fans because they’ve been so supportive. All I can tell you is that we are going to get it straight.”
If the Cardinals are in a freefall, Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves appear to have no definitive plan, long-term or short-term. Since the retirement of Kurt Warner after the 2009 season, Whisenhunt has failed to cultivate a broad offensive network, failed to develop a successful quarterback, failed to construct a viable running attack, failed to mold a cohesive offensive line and failed to assemble a creative offensive team of coaches and players.
The latter point might be difficult to believe because Whisenhunt comes from the offensive side of the ball. By virtue of the success he had as the Steelers' offensive coordinator, he was hired as Arizona’s head coach before the 2007 season.
Now, the Cardinals are mired in despair and mediocrity.
“For the last seven weeks, it’s been the same situation,” lamented WR Larry Fitzgerald, who has caught only four passes in the past two games. “Nothing else needs to be said, and I’m not at a loss for words. At this point, we just need to find a way to win a game.”
That might be easier said than done.
Given lack of offensive production over the past several weeks, Whisenhunt turned to the rookie Lindley to direct the offense.
“I tried not to get too high or get too low or too satisfied with the good stuff we did,” said Lindley, who finished 31-of-52 passing for 312 yards with four interceptions and zero TDs in his first NFL start. “You’ve have to roll with the punches in this league and keep fighting. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted and there’s not much I can do right now to take any of those (interceptions) back.”
Perhaps one area where Whisenhunt and the Cardinals’ offensive brain trust can start is to produce greater offensive efficiency.
Take the Rams game as an example. Arizona finished with 24 first downs but an average of only 4.9 yards per play. Plus, they scored zero points in the second half — after holding a 17-14 halftime lead — and the usually reliable defense allowed the Rams a critical 11-play, 71-yard drive which consumed nearly seven minutes of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Conversely, the Cardinals’ second-half offense consisted of eight lowly possessions and no production. Three ended with Lindley interceptions, four in punts and one on downs.
At this point, constructive answers are far and few between.
In the Rams game, the offense seemed to demonstrate some spark early under Lindley but only for brief moments.
The running game, expected to be bolstered by the return of Wells, showed little life. For his effort, Wells picked up 48 yards on 17 carries in the St. Louis contest, and that factors out to 2.8 yards per carry. Clearly, Wells does not come close as a panacea for a weak Arizona ground attack, and Lindley’s education and development as an NFL quarterback has only just began.
All of which continues to leave players and coaches in a hopeless freefall.
“We’re not winning the one-on-one battles and not making enough plays to win games,” CB Patrick Peterson said. “We’ve been knocked down seven times in a row now and at some point, we have to pick ourselves up. We win as a team and we lose as a team. Right now, there’s a great deal of adversity going on. We’re down to a third quarterback, but we have to continue fighting.”
Sounds like we’ve heard that before.