Anderson's struggles pose query: Did Cards make right choice?

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Derek Anderson era started with a gradual buildup and culminated with the unceremonious dumping of Matt Leinart, once considered the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback of the future.

Three ho-hum games into the season, a question looms: Was Anderson the right choice?

Overthrowing receivers and blowing scoring chances his team can't afford, the former Pro Bowl signal-caller has had a middling start to his career with the Cardinals. His stats are unimpressive, the offense he's in charge of is stuck in neutral, and his team ought to be 1-2.

Impatience has fans and some in the local media calling for Anderson to be replaced by unproven rookie Max Hall, and even his coach is concerned.

"We have to be better than we have been throwing the football," Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday. "Trust me, we're working on it, and hopefully it'll show up."

Anderson arrived in Arizona ready to be Leinart's backup after five uneven seasons in Cleveland, including three years battling Brady Quinn for the Browns' starting job.

Anderson did everything the Cardinals asked and gradually made up ground on Leinart, Arizona's 2006 first-round draft pick. By the time the preseason was winding down, Anderson had supplanted Leinart as starter, and the Cardinals dumped the former Heisman Trophy winner just before the start of the season.

That left Anderson with the difficult task of quickly shifting gears from backup to starter despite spending a good chunk of the offseason and preseason watching Leinart work with the first team.

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The lack of first-team work has led to miscommunication with receivers, which has been compounded by injuries. Larry Fitzgerald missed a good chunk of the preseason with a knee injury, Early Doucet missed the past two games with a groin injury, and now Steve Breaston is out for at least a week after having surgery on his right knee.

Anderson hasn't helped the situation with the occasional badly overthrown ball, short passes that are a little too hard and missed connections on plays that could have led to touchdowns.

The result has been a relatively unimpressive stat line: 580 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, a passer rating of 67.6. His average yards per catch of 5.9 is one of the worst in the NFL, and his completion rate of 52 percent is ahead of only Oakland's Bruce Gradkowski, who didn't open the season as the starter, and Carolina's Matt Moore, who didn't last long as the starter.

"I'm just trying to keep progressing, keep learning and make sure the ball's going to the right spots," Anderson said. "Things will be all right."

It has consistently been all right late in games. Even when he has struggled early in games, Anderson has a knack for playing well late.

In the season-opening 17-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams, Anderson engineered a seven-play, 86-yard drive, capping it with a 21-yard pass to Fitzgerald for the decisive score. Following a blowout loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Anderson put together another drive to set up the winning points against the Raiders, hitting Fitzgerald on an 8-yard score late in the third quarter. Arizona held on to win 24-23 when Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt on the final play.

Anderson has the NFL's fourth-best fourth-quarter passer rating at 110.2, and his completion percentage jumps to 62.5 over the final 15 minutes.

"He's a tough guy, and he obviously responds," said Whisenhunt, whose team plays Sunday at San Diego. "We're working trying to be more efficient earlier in the games, and I think we're making progress with that. But I don't think you can underestimate how tough the guys is and how competitive he is. That's what we saw when he first got here, and the good part of the reason he's the starting quarterback right now (is) because of that quality."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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