The still pictures came down to the sideline after every offensive possession for the Cardinals in Green Bay, but John Skelton had already deciphered correctly what was going on.
More than Skelton’s statistics, the evaluation of how plays were being made -- or how they should have been made -- showed quarterbacks coach John McNulty the progress made by the third-year signal-caller. While the position remains a question mark, with both the rib rehab of fellow quarterback
That moment was priceless to Skelton, and why his ankle injury in the opener – opening the door for Kolb to play and play pretty well – was so painful, beyond the physical agony of stretched ligaments.
“In this league you’re only going to get so many opportunities,” Skelton said. “You’re only going to get named the starter publicly, what, a couple of times, and when you get that chance you have to take the opportunity and run.”
Cardinals radio analyst Ron Wolfley said Skelton’s game in Green Bay was his best overall performance since he arrived in Arizona. Skelton did throw for 306 yards, but both that and his completion percentage (only 50 percent) took a hit because of six or seven drops for the Cardinals. McNulty wants to see the offense score more, but said Skelton did do a better job keeping some plays alive and avoiding the rush, calling the effort “well-played” by Skelton.
That’s been coming, McNulty added. The ankle injury that kept Skelton inactive for four games inevitably hindered his development. A player can attend meetings and he can get some practice reps, but unless he plays in a game it’s difficult to be fully ready for such speed.
The last six quarters Skelton has shown a comfort with game speed, McNulty added. And that dovetails with Skelton’s feeling that he is seeing the field of late better than he ever has.
“We have a lot of plays where we check the protection, check the play, check from the run to a pass,” Skelton said. “That aspect is almost night and day (for me) from even preseason until now.”
Skelton acknowledged his top goal is to protect the football. He hasn’t been able to escape turnovers – he has an interception in each of the four games he has played since returning – but hasn’t had multiple interceptions. In the last three starts, the three interceptions have come over 134 pass attempts as the Cards pass often trying to come from behind.
The roller coaster hasn’t been easy. It was hard for Skelton to watch Kolb take control of the starting spot after Skelton’s ankle problems, especially after Skelton had worked so hard to end up as the starter after training camp.
But Kolb handled his demotion to backup well, and McNulty said Skelton followed that lead.
“Maybe it would have happened anyway because they are both good guys, but I think maybe it helped John, thinking, ‘Wait a minute, when this guy was out, so to speak, he stayed in it,’ ” McNulty said. “He kind of followed that blueprint. When John was back healthy and ready to go I think he was itching to play. It was, ‘Am I coming back? Is he the starter? What’s going on?’ Then Kevin goes down in Buffalo.”
Unlike other positions, the quarterback’s play is also partially measured on wins and losses. Skelton is acutely aware the Cards have yet to win since he has gotten back under center. Skelton isn’t going anywhere, with Kolb still coming back from his rib injury.
Some are beginning to clamor for Lindley to play, an odd reversal for Skelton, who just a year ago was on the other side of that desire as the backup people wanted to see play.
Skelton just wants to continue to work. There may be a call for Lindley, but right now is one of those opportunities Skelton knows are precious. He doesn’t want to let it go.
“Any professional, whatever it is, you can’t listen to outside factors, whether they are cheering for you or against you,” Skelton said. “You kind of block that out in a sense. You know your capabilities, you know your team’s capabilities and you just have to go out and execute day in, day out, because you don’t know when the opportunity could be taken from you.”