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In Whiz We Trust, But Not Indiscriminately

Ken Whisenhunt hoists the NFC Championship trophy after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2008 sesaon, earning the oldest continually run professional football franchise its first Super Bowl appearance in team history

On January 14, 2007, the Arizona Cardinals hired Ken Whisenhunt as their new head coach.  On January 18, 2009, Ken Whisenhunt rewarded the Cardinals with the NFC Championship.  Those are the facts and they are incontrovertible.

Let’s flash back to January 2007 before we go any further.  Whisenhunt had just taken over from Denny “they are who we thought they were” Green, who led the Cardinals to a 5-11 mark.  In addition, Whisenhunt took over a Cardinals team that lost ten or more games in seven of the previous eight seasons.  All this leads to one inexorably conclusion: The Cardinals were terrible when Ken Whisenhunt took over, which makes the following all the more impressive.

Ken Whisenhunt’s Arizona Career Thus Far: A Play in Four Acts

  • Act 1The Opener: Led the Cardinals to an 8-8 season after years of complete destitution.  The Card were the laughing stock of the NFL for good reason.  One year under Whisenhunt’s leadership net an extra three wins.
  • Act 2 – The Dream Season: Continued on the success by adding one more notch to the win column, giving the Cardinals their first winning season since Jake Plummer led the Cardinals to a 9-7 record and a road playoff win in Dallas in 1998.  Improbably, the Cardinals shake off the “worst playoff team in NFL history” yoke and beat the Falcons in the Wild Card round, the Panthers in Carolina in the Divisional round, and the Eagles to earn the NFC crown.  Arizona lost to Pittsburgh in one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever, especially in the second half.  The Cards came within seconds of a Super Bowl victory within about two calendar years of being a total joke.  Dream season indeed.
  • Act 3Shouldering the Expectations.  Now that the Cardinals grabbed everyone’s attention, Whisenhunt had to make sure that his team didn’t suffer from a Super Bowl hang over; job done.  The Cards go 10-6 and win their second straight division championship.  They beat the heavily favored Packers in the Wild Card round, but lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Saints in New Orleans.
  • Act 4The Exodus.  Warner, Dansby, Rolle, Boldin, Berry, Okeafor and others; all gone.  The man Whisenhunt never wanted, Matt Leinart, has to lead the team.  After Leinart’s dismissal and Anderson’s benching, we now have rookie Max Hall calling the shots.  Maybe this is the act where the play hits a dramatic low.

A season, however, is an act, within an act, within an act.  A series of highs and lows with each one amplifying the effects of the last.  Obviously, the act that comprises the 2010 season is yet to be fully written and up until this point it’s been very tough to criticize Whisenhunt’s pen considering his list of accomplishments and the time in which he accomplished them.  Having said that, these are just a few of the things that have been bothering me recently.

  1. The Playcalling – It’s been really bad and Whisenhunt needs to do something about it; he’s not a play caller.  The Cardinals are becoming very, very predictable with no creativity.  I think Todd Haley’s contributions to this team have been drastically overlooked and it’s no surprise that the Cardinals enjoyed their peak of offensive success under Haley’s play calling and scheming.  With Whisenhunt, if the Cardinals run, it’s either a draw from shotgun or a stretch play from under center.  If they pass, it’s from shotgun and the routes are all short and without big play potential.  At this point, however, I guess I can’t complain about the routes not having big play potential because with Hall running the show it’s not a good idea to press him too much.  The play calling can still be varied and more creative, though.
  2. The Defensive Coordinator – I’m not sure why the Cardinals can’t find a good defensive coordinator.  Clancy Pendergast was fired for losing the Super Bowl in the last minute and Bill Davis has not done a better job, unfortunately.  One example of Davis’ head scratching game planning is the failure to take advantage of Darnell Dockett’s constant double team.  Dockett draws an extra blocker on almost every single down, yet Davis fails to take advantage by overloading the side opposite Dockett.  Another example is how in the world have so many receivers been absolutely wide open deep in the secondary this season.  We’re talking no one within five to ten yards of the receiver in any direction.  The Cardinals have plenty of talent to spare on defense: Dockett, Wilson, Campbell, DRC, Rhodes, Toler. There’s no excuse.  It’s got to be Davis.
  3. The Leinart Situation – I guess I’ll bring this up at least one more time.  Whisenhunt must have known how he felt about Leinart’s ability lead way before the 2010 pre-season.  I just refuse to believe otherwise.  In addition, Kurt Warner was hinting all throughout the 2009 season that he wasn’t going to come back for another go around, especially after the concussion against the Rams.  Further, once Warner slammed into the ground after that brutal hit right before the half against the Saints in last year’s Divisional Playoff game, the game was up.  It was really hard to believe that Kurt was coming back, though I wanted him to.  Whisenhunt must have sensed what everyone else did.  The toying around with Leinart and signing Anderson just made no sense.  It’s not like there were that many options at the time, but there were some including Charlie Whitehurst (the Cards did try to land him but wouldn’t pay up), Donovan McNabb, and Marc Bulger, which all would have been better pickups than Anderson.  If the Cardinals end up striking gold with an undrafted rookie, Max Hall, he will be the savior of this franchise and he would come very, very cheaply.

Except for the play calling, the other two problems may not be Whisenhunt’s fault, but the fault of the odious Bidwills, who are the cheapest, stingiest, care as little about winning as possible owners in professional sports.  We’re talking about a family of owners that almost allowed Kurt Warner to defect to the 49ers after taking the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl over a couple of million dollars in a contract dispute; for shame.  Quite frankly, the Bidwills are most likely too cheap to hire a top flight defensive coordinator and chase down a free agent quarterback that will keep the team competitive while the Cards get younger at the position.

We can’t be too quick to blame Whisenhunt because he’s dealing with the Bidwills, which is no easy task.  Anyway, Whiz has earned quite a lot of wiggle room considering what he’s done for the franchise.

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