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To Punt or Not to Punt: The Dilemma That Faced the Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals had several chances to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat yesterday, but in my mind, one play coaches decision stands out. First, please don't construe this as me calling for our coach to be fired because no one is a bigger fan of Ken Whisenhunt than myself. I admired what he was able to do in Pittsburgh and I'm positively giddy about what he's building here in Arizona. I think the future is bright and this franchises' best days are in the very near future, but we can still disagree with a decision right? After all, if we're not dissecting each and every decision the day after a loss, then we wouldn't be real fans? So with all that being said, here's the decision that irked me at the time and continues to itch my 'what if' button. Whiz3_medium

Scenario: The Cardinals get the ball in great field position (thier own 42) after the Redskins miss a field goal that would have put the game away. There's plenty of time on the clock (3:23) and they're down by seven points. The offense takes the field, knowing that they need a touchdown but with all three timeouts, there's plenty of time to run any kind of play. The first down play call is a nice six yard gain by Edgerrin James and the Cardinals switch to a no-huddle offense and the next pass is incomplete on a dump off pass to Tim Hightower. Facing a third-and-four the Cardinals again drop back to pass and again misfire on a short pass to Hightower. So what you want about the play calls leading up to this point but the decision comes down to this: a 4th-and-4 with at mid-field with 2:46 to go in the game.

Decision: Coach Whisenhunt decides to forgoe a fourth down attempt and instead punts the ball back to the Redskins. On one hand, I understand that he trusts the defense to give the offense one more chance. After all, they've got all three timeouts and the defense has done a decent job of holding Portis in check most of the day. On the other hand though, the Cardinals haven't exactly shut down the Redskins offense during the second half and they hadn't forced a three-and-out since the second quarter.

Result: Following the punt, the Skins' offense runs four plays (3 runs, 1 pass) and gains two first downs. The Cardinals use all of their timeouts and the game ends on two 'victory formation' kneel downs.

Why I Disagree With the Decision: We all know that hindsight is 20/20 so it's easy to sit here this morning and second guess a decision made in the heat of battle but I still think that Whiz should have played to his strengths. The strength of this Arizona Cardinals team is the passing game and if they can't pick up four yards when you need them the most, then this team is destined to fail. The defense is an improved unit, especially the front seven, but the passing offense is one of the top five or six units in the league and that's not something the defense can not say. In the end, it looked like they were 'playing not to lose' instead of 'playing to win.'

Thoughts? Agree/Disagree?