Soon, any competition to start between Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner will be over.
Hours before Kurt Warner was to make his first and somewhat surprising start at quarterback for the Cardinals in Kansas City, coach Ken Whisenhunt was talking about the situation and his other QB, Matt Leinart.
"This, by no means, is a make-or-break year for Matt," Whisenhunt said.
That's a significant statement.
Conventional wisdom seems to direct people otherwise. If Leinart struggles this
season and Warner steps in to play much like he did last year, where does that leave Leinart? Do the Cardinals have to ramp up contract negotiations with Warner, scheduled to be a free agent after the season? If Leinart isn't in a make-or-break situation, it would seem to crack the door open that much more for Warner to start.
The Cardinals have arguably the best quarterback situation in the NFL. Whoever starts, if that man gets injured, there wouldn't be that normal shudder from fans that the Cards would have to turn to a backup.
No matter who starts, however, questions will linger. They probably won't fade as long as both Warner and Leinart are Cards.
Whisenhunt called the performances by both quarterbacks "sporadic" against the Chiefs Saturday. It'd be hard to say Warner didn't look a little better, save for the one pass to Larry Fitzgerald that went the wrong way (Warner took the blame for the miscommunication when he threw one way and Fitz turned the other).
One even wonders if the Warner-to-throw possibility helped on his touchdown drive when Edgerrin James rumbled 15 yards on a second-and-16 draw play. Such is the fear factor of Warner when he is playing well.
"I am just trying to get ready for the season," Warner said. "My whole thing was just to get the kinks out, getting back into a game, and keeping the emotions in check."
Warner's night ended with Tim Hightower's TD run, and then came Leinart's rocky first half. Three drives went nowhere in the first half. Leinart didn't look particularly sharp, but he did look much better – against the Chiefs' backups – in his TD drive to start the second quarter.
"Obviously I knew the rotation coming into the game," Leinart said of coming in as No. 2. "You just have to stay focused."
Warner's passing rating was actually the lowest of the Cards' four quarterbacks. Brian St. Pierre (4-for-4, 40 yards, 1 TD) was a 147.9 and Leinart (7-for-11, 62 yards, 1 TD) was a 108.9. Even Anthony Morelli (1-for-1, 7 yards) was a 95.8, with Warner (6-for-9, 54 yards) posting a 82.6.
(And no, I'm not sitting here saying Morelli or St. Pierre is better than Warner. It was just an interesting, if coincidental, stat).
Warner looked solid – just how everyone thought he would.
So what comes next?
When the topic came up between myself and former Cardinals center Bill Lewis on the radio Saturday (Shameless plug: Lewis and I co-host the Kia Kickoff Show every week three hours prior to game time on KTAR), Lewis made the point that, if Leinart is to be the starter going into the season, this coming week would normally be his. The majority of practice reps would go to the starter, as would the play time in the game.
The same, I suppose, would go for Warner.
The third preseason game is usually the one in which the starters play into the second half. Whisenhunt could make a final call on his starter this week, or he could draw out the camp competition another week. Only he knows what he wants to do, and Sunday night he had his staff are still breaking down film from the Chiefs game.
Either way, the quarterback decision is coming. It may not be this week. But it's coming, and regardless of the choice, it will impact the Cardinals' season.
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 8/17/08. Updated 8/17/08.
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