One common misconception from football fans outside of Arizona, or even within the state, is that Matt Leinart is a "bust". It is a judgment against the 4th-year quarterback that most assume stems from his stats and brief highlights during his career. So how can someone not consider Leinart a bust?
We all know the facts. He won the starting job from Kurt Warner his rookie year in 2006, a year that Dennis Green was the head coach. That season, Leinart won four out of eleven games, throwing for 2,547 yards, 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The following season he was rotated in and out of the line up with Warner before he was sent to the injured reserve by Will Witherspoon. And of course, he's spent the last two seasons behind future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who was conveniently playing out of his mind during that time. This is an argument that Cardinals' fans have often used to repel the Matt Leinart-doubters. Although I believe and hope that he'll have a successful season in 2010, let me play devil's advocate for a moment.
I'll look at the 2007 season, a season that saw Matt Leinart at the helm despite the resurging Warner in the background. Matt won the starting battle that season, leading me to believe that he was the better quarterback at that point. He played in five games until he broke his collarbone. Here's how they went:
- Cardinals lose 17-20 at 49ers - Some can argue that Eric Green failing to fall on a wide open pigskin in the endzone lost this game, but I beg to differ. Leinart completed 14(50%) of his passes; Warner didn't throw an attempt. Leinart threw for 102 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. Larry Fitzgerald caught three passes while Boldin caught four. Although he did throw his only touchdown pass in the 4th quarter to give the Cardinals the lead, statistically, this was a terrible opening game for Leinart, and a large reason they lost the game.
- Cardinals win 23-20 vs Seahawks - Leinart remained the starter despite the previous week. This time, he played well, completing 23 passes for 299 yards, and one touchdown and interception each. His only touchdown came on play-action pass, in which he found tight end Leonard Pope for a 30-yard pass. After the Cardinals took an early 17-0 lead, Leinart couldn't maintain the momentum in the second half, only scoring six offensive points.
- Cardinals lose 23-26 at Ravens - You could call this the downfall of Matt's career at this point. Playing on the road against a blitz-happy Ravens' defense, Leinart completed just 9 of 20 passes for 53 yards. He couldn't deal with the pressure and was permanently replaced by Kurt Warner in the second half after the team trailed 23-6. Warner engineered a furious comeback, but couldn't prevail.
Cardinals win 21-14 vs Steelers - After a horrible previous week, Leinart remained the starter. Be that as it may, Warner was shuffled in the lineup and played the entire 3rd quarter, throwing a touchdown pass to Jerheme Urban. Leinart was just 7-14 for 93 yards, but did lead the Cardinals on an 82-yard scoring drive in the 4th quarter. After the game, Leinart provided the media with this gem:
"I just want them to ride or die with me. If I'm the franchise quarterback, play me and let me stumble, because I'll fight through it, and that will help me and our team in the long run. I know coaches want to win now, and I guess they have their reasons. But I don't understand it, and this switching back and forth is almost worse than getting benched."
- Cardinals win 34-31 vs Rams - In Leinart's final game of the season, he suffered a broken collarbone at the hands of Witherspoon. Before that happened, he was 7/13 for 100 yards and a pick. Warner took over and didn't look back for the next two and half years.
The biggest reasons that I picked 2007 to evaluate Leinart were a.) 2008 & 2009 were non-existent and b.) It is the most recent season to evaluate his performance. I won't forget however, that he has grown a lot since that year and has had the opportunity to learn behind one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has ever seen. He's also getting quite possibly the most complete team he's been a part of in 2010. Furthermore, he has and will practice with the first-team offense, something he hasn't been able to do for some time. With all of that in mind, I'll leave you with the following question.