The Arizona Cardinals entered Thursday night's game against the St. Louis Rams as some of the golden boys of the NFL, hoping, and likely believing that they would enter their mini-bye week at 5-0. Though no-one ever expected the game to be a cake-walk, the general consensus amongst the media, fans and team appeared to be that the Cardinals could, and should, leave the prime-time showdown with thier divisional rivals victorious.
What they got, however, was a wake up call, and brutal reminder of why the NFC West may just be the toughest division in the NFL.
The game was ugly for both teams, and the 17-3 scoreline barely tells the story of just how well, and how badly both teams performed in various phases of the game.
Whenever a team loses a game, much of the blame immediately falls at the feet of the quarterback, especially when that quarterback failed to post any touchdowns on three trips into the red zone.
However, in spite of the scoreline, Kolb's 29-of-50 for 289 yards and no interceptions are reasonable results. He was not helped by the at times confusing play calling—calling a passing play short of the goal line on 4th-and-goal at the Rams 6, or all but abandoning the run game for example—or the unbelievably poor play of his offensive line—which gave up 9 sacks, 14 hits and 21 hurries.
The truth is, that Kolb is actually developing into a dependable game manager. He is perfectly suited to making around 25 passing plays per game, when given makable second and third down distances. He is especially handy on play-action passes, and when given even a modicum of time in the pocket. But he understandably struggles when under pressure, when asked to make up more than 10 yards and when forced to make plays on the move or without time to reset his feet fully, where he is particularly inaccurate.
Few quarterbacks in the NFL wouldn't succeed under the pressure he is facing, and as much as I like John Skelton, I fail to imagine him doing much better in these circumstances.
Through the first five games of the season, Kolb has managed to shake the major niggle most fans had with him, the idea that he was fragile and unwilling to take the hits. Through five weeks, Kolb has been beaten and bruised, and just keeps getting back up. He has also learned that it is sometimes better to punt than force the pass, and that has resulted in four wins, seven touchdowns and only two interceptions thus far.
Kolb was not perfect, squandering multiple chances to put points on the board in the first half. He seemed to overthrow his receivers each and every time that the O-line actually afforded him some protection, but in spite of a few missteps, Kolb has earned the right to continue to start.
If the Cardinals can be more consistent in their pass protection, commit to a more realistic ratio of run and pass, and better utilise play-action, I honestly believe that Kolb can develop into the quarterback that the Cardinals need, even if not perhaps the one they want, for the remainder of this season.
However, the expectations of the fans are now, perhaps unreasonably lofty. If wins are not forthcoming, then the Cardinals may be forced to act, or react, to Kolb's mistakes more descisively, and return the starting job to Skelton. To be fair, Skelton did win the job in preseaon, and looked good enough in his brief outing in Week 1.
Kolb is certainly playing for his job each and every game. Skelton was the starter and Kolb backup at the beginning of the season, and only game wins and near-perfect performances from Kolb will prevent that situation for reccuring. He may not have lost his job yet, but it's imposible to imagine that he's not on probation, even if he hasn't really done anything to deserve to be.