Ken Whisenhunt shouldn’t be blamed if he plays hooky from the Cardinals for a few days and goes looking for the fountain of youth sought by famous explorers several centuries ago.

The Cardinals’ constant struggles at quarterback since the retirement of Kurt Warner could lead even the most level-headed coach in the NFL to hop on a plane and fly around the world in search of a mythical cure that would restore Warner’s health and allow him to retake the Cardinals’ starting quarterback position.

While Whisenhunt shouldn’t be blamed for wishing Warner could return, Whisenhunt should receive the brunt of the criticism if the Cardinals endure yet another frustrating season in 2012.

By choosing Skelton over Kolb, Whisenhunt bowed to popular sentiment and completely ignored the fact that Kolb outperformed Skelton during the preseason in almost every important statistical category.

Whisenhunt’s ill-informed decision to start Skelton over Kolb will prevent the Cardinals from truly learning if Kolb will ever be the answer at quarterback, and while it may lead to a few more wins for the Cardinals in the short-term, starting Skelton over Kolb will undoubtedly hurt the Cardinals in the long-term development of the franchise.

Both quarterbacks only played in four of the Cardinals’ five postseason games. Let’s compare how they performed in these four games:

  • Kolb: 22 of 37, 59.5%, 203 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 49.7 rating
  • Skelton: 14 of 25, 56.0%, 131 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 50.6 rating

Sure, Kolb may have thrown one more interception than Skelton. Nevertheless, Skelton’s quarterback rating was barely higher than Kolb’s quarterback rating. Why? Kolb threw for 72 more yards than Skelton. Evidently Kolb’s third interception completely eliminated the fact that Kolb moved the ball better than Skelton.

These statistics don’t tell the whole story. Perhaps Whisenhunt forgot that the team that scores the most points is the team that wins the game, because he completely discounted the fact that Kolb led the Cardinals on four scoring drives during the preseason—two drives for touchdowns and two drives for field goals. In contrast, Skelton only led the Cardinals on three scoring drives—two drives for touchdowns and one drive for a field goal.

Much has also been made of the fact that star receiver Larry Fitzgerald performed much better last season with Skelton behind center during the 2011 season. Last season, Fitzgerald hauled in 42 passes for 753 yards and 6 touchdowns in games in which Skelton was the Cardinals’ quarterback. In contrast, Fitzgerald caught 38 passes for 658 yards and 2 touchdowns in games in which Kolb was behind center for the Cardinals.

Given that Fitzgerald is one of the three best wide receivers in the NFL, Whisenhunt should focus on identifying the quarterback who can most effectively get him the ball. Evidently Whisenhunt watched some mislabeled game film while evaluating his quarterbacks, because he failed to consider Kolb’s chemistry with Fitzgerald in the 2012 preseason. Kolb completed 5 passes to Fitzgerald for 91 yards, while Skelton completed only 2 passes to Fitzgerald for 27 yards.

Kolb’s success with Fitzgerald didn’t come during garbage time either—it came during Week 3 of the preseason against the Tennessee Titans, which is the game during which a team’s starters generally play significant time. Facing a Titans pass defense that ranked fifth among all NFL defenses in CHFF’s Defensive Real Passing Yards Per Attempt in 2011, limiting opposing quarterbacks to an average of 5.86 yards per pass, Kolb turned in a very successful outing with Fitzgerald in less than four quarters of action.

Many analysts and fans have pointed to Skelton’s intangibles as the reason why he should start over Kolb. While intangibles and confidence are important, the list of quarterbacks who have had great intangibles but have failed to perform on the field is long, and as Tim Tebow found out in last season’s playoff loss to the New England Patriots, strong intangibles do not automatically help players compensate for lapses in performance.

Perhaps Whisenhunt felt his seat getting a bit hot out in the scorching heat of the Arizona desert and he chose to start Skelton because he knew that Skelton may produce a few more wins than Kolb this season. Whisenhunt can’t be faulted for wanting to save his job. However, when the long-term future of the franchise is considered, Kolb is undoubtedly a better prospect to be the answer at quarterback in the future. Keeping him on the bench may help the Cardinals in 2012, but the Cardinals will pay for this move in the future if and when Skelton fails and Kolb still remains a largely unknown commodity.

It’s a good thing that Whisenhunt never had the opportunity to coach Brett Favre. Based on the decision-making that Whisenhunt demonstrated during the preseason, he just might have benched Favre because he threw too many interceptions. While Kolb may be far from Favre at this point in his career, Whisenhunt’s singular focus on interceptions and disregard for all other positive statistical data may just keep the Cardinals from learning if Kolb will ever be anything close to Favre. Whisenhunt’s shortsightedness in 2012 is definitely not in the best interest of the Cardinals franchise in 2013 and beyond.