Anderson Needs Help from Supporting Cast on Offense

Derek Anderson is no stranger to ups and downs as he has been battling for a starting role for most of his professional career, but he needs the support of the entire offense now to succeed in Arizona

Derek Anderson must feel like his entire NFL career has been one big audition.  He’s been battling to keep a starting position on an NFL roster since his days in Cleveland squaring off against Brady Quinn.  Now, Anderson is locked in a fight with an undrafted rookie, Max Hall, to secure the starting spot for the Cardinals.  It still doesn’t appear to the head coach that Anderson is clearly the better option.  “I’m not saying [I’m] down on Max,” Whisenhunt explained.  “It was a tough decision.  We have to get better production out of that position as a whole.”  Obviously, Whisenhunt’s call for production is an understatement.

Arizona desperately needs Anderson to step up and take control of the quarterback position.  Swapping QBs in and out on a week-by-week basis will do nothing but create uncertainty and doubt, which the Cardinals can ill afford.  Considering the talent on offense surrounding Anderson, it honestly doesn’t sound like an unreasonable request.  Let’s take a look at Derek Anderson’s supporting cast.

Receivers: A definite plus for Anderson

  • Anderson has all the receiving talent he could possibly want in Fitzgerald, Breaston, and Early Doucet.  Although injuries have limited Breaston and Doucet, the trio took the field together for the first time last week and should do so for the foreseeable future.  If that’s the case, we can expect an increase in offensive opportunities, which the receivers have already provided on a weekly basis.  Larry Fitzgerald in particular has been wide open for a score in the majority of games, including last week against Tampa Bay.  In addition, the quarterback has often seen Fitzgerald flash open, but simply missed on the throw.  The point is that quality play from the receivers will eventually pay off when Anderson (or Hall because you never know) hits one of those receivers for a big play at one point or another.  You have to figure that Anderson will throw a strike eventually.  Without such talented receivers, however, Anderson would basically have no shot at success because he can’t throw receivers open or make his own opportunities.

Running Backs: A plus for Anderson, though less so than the receivers.

  • Anderson has talent at the running back spot as well.  Once again health becomes an issue as Beanie Wells has struggled to stay healthy this season.  LaRod Stephens-Howling, though, provides a nice x-factor of sorts; he’s a change of pace with the best speed of all the backs.  We all know about Tim Hightower‘s fumbling issues, but Ken Whisenhunt apparently believes that Tim will figure it out and plans to get Hightower more involved.  To really help Anderson, though, the Cardinals need to commit to establishing the run early in a game.  We’ve seen the Cardinals consistently attempt to pass the ball down the field, even on Arizona’s first few possessions.  Like quarterbacks, however, running backs need to get into a rhythm to really be effective.  Neither Wells nor Hightower have been given the opportunity to really get rolling, whether it’s because of the playcalling, turnovers or the score.  It’s something that has to change in order for Anderson to be successful.

The Offensive Line: Makes Anderson’s job drastically more difficult

  • The offensive line has been a huge weakness.  Like last year’s abysmal duo of Mike Gandy and Levi Brown, this year’s tackle combination leaves a lot to be desired.  Levi Brown has been as terrible as ever and Brandon Keith, who has shown improvements, still has a lot of work to do.  Veteran guard Alan Faneca gets tossed around like a rag doll on at least a few plays each week.  Finally, center  Lyle Sendlein and guard Deuce Lutui have been the only consistent players on the line so far this year.  According to rankings compiled on NFL.com, the Arizona offensive line is the 29th in the NFL.  Only the Seahawks, Redskins, and Bears are worse, in that order.  The Cardinals are tied for third in the NFL with 22 sacks allowed.  Only the Redskins (23) and Bears (31)  have given up more.  Even when Anderson and Hall aren’t getting sacked they are apparently still taking a beating.  The Cardinals are tenth in the NFL with 40 QB hits.  The Arizona line has been flat out terrible.  Some people apparently feel differently about how the Cardinals’ offensive line has played, but when an O-Line gives up very close to league highs in sacks and quarterback hits, it’s tough to think that they’re a quality unit.  Admittedly, sacks and QB hits can be misleading stats in some cases, especially if a quarterback holds the ball too long, like Aaron Rodgers during the first half of last year, but even still.  The Cardinals’ offensive line, predominantly the tackles, have allowed outside speed rushers to get to the quarterback with almost no resistance on a weekly basis.  At times, Levi Brown barely gets a hand on defensive ends en route to the quarterback.  I just can’t get excited about modest improvements (which there have been) when the line as a whole hasn’t come close to providing consistent quality protection.  In fairness, I should mention that the Cards’ line has been better providing running room, but this analysis is only concerned with how the line’s play directly affects Andreson’s ability to overcome his deficiencies as a passer.

Whether the Cards provide their quarterback with an adequate supporting cast or not, the ultimate onus is on Anderson to perform.  He’s no doubt inaccurate and makes poor decisions, which unfortunately are usually not correctable at this stage of a quarterback’s career.  This doesn’t mean that the Cardinals can’t mitigate Anderson’s shortcomings.  To wit, the fact that he (and Hall for that matter) has received very spotty protection only intensifies his faults as a quarterback.  Better protection would at least make it easier for Anderson to turn things around.

To turn things around, Derek has a new plan of attack, though he knows it’s going to be tough sledding.  “I’m not going to say it’s easy,” Anderson said.  “I play this for my teammates and is something I always did as a kid. I didn’t understand the scale of how big it was until I got (to the NFL).  It was more of a game to me, going out and having fun with my buddies and that’s what I am trying to get back to doing.  It is just a game.  If I approach every down that way, I think I’ll have more success.”  Let’s hope so because as Whisenhunt inferred, the Cardinals need better play from their quarterback in order to salvage their season.


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