The challenge of making a challenge

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2011 – 11:39 am

To sum it up, yes, Ken Whisenhunt thought the spot of the ball was wrong.

The Browns Sunday ran Payton Hillis on third-and-1 for what was called a first down, although it looked like the Cards had stuffed him short of the line to gain and replays seemed to bear that out. The Cardinals’ coach thought about challenging but didn’t – three plays later, the Browns scored on their 76-yard touchdown pass – in a sequence that was a microcosm of the difficulty in making a challenge.

“Let me tell you something, (challenging) is a tough deal,” Whisenhunt said. “The whole world is looking at you and a lot of times, you don’t have all the information.”

Generally, Whisenhunt quickly checks with the upstairs coaches on whatever side of the ball isn’t involved in the challenge – for instance, if the Cards’ defense is on the field, he goes to the offensive coaches first. Then he would check with the defensive coaches.

But it’s all done in a very tight window.

The situation on the Hillis spot dictated Whisenhunt’s hesitancy.  Earlier in the game, the Cards had unsuccessfully challenged a third-down Cleveland completion in the first half. The play picked up only eight yards and it was fourth down regardless. But the catch made a field-goal attempt 44 yards instead of 52, and a challenge was worth it to Whisenhunt.

The play was upheld, however, meaning that the Cards only had one challenge left the rest of the game. So when the Hillis run came early in the third quarter, and it only gave the Browns a first down at their own 22-yard line, it was already sketchy. Add in the odds that a spot would actually be changed, and Whiz said no.

“Yes, we talked about it,” Whisenhunt said. “But I was scared to use it because there was too much judgment involved with that.”

It paid off too, because the Cards’ saved challenge ended up becoming very useful later in the game when Whiz flagged the Seneca Wallace sack/fumble that ended up being overturned, giving the Cards the ball.

Whisenhunt said he’s been burned by a lack of challenges before, and the moment was burned in his brain — a play in Tampa Bay on Nov. 4, 2007, when Kurt Warner threw an interception with 2:39 left. The Cardinals thought Jermaine Phillips had only one foot inbounds, but Whisenhunt couldn’t challenge.

In that case, though, the Cards had both their challenges remaining. In that game, the Cards couldn’t challenge because they had burned all three of their timeouts earlier in the half and had none left (and a team must have a timeout to use a challenge, in case the challenge fails). Sunday, timeouts weren’t the issue, just the earlier missed challenge.

“I learned a hard lesson in Tampa,” Whisenhunt said.

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24 Responses to “The challenge of making a challenge”

  1. By Jzoully on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply


    I was reading the power rankings, and if everyone ends up being 9-7 as far as Chicago, Detroit, and Atlanta that means it would be Chicago 5th Seed and Arizona 6th Seed. Is that true?

  2. By Darren Urban on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    Jzoully —

    RE: Tiebreakers

    To be honest, I do not know right now. I want to see how this weekend plays out before delving into the complicated issues.

  3. By MIKE G on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    Hey Darren–I think overall Whiz and his staff have done an overall good job with calling challenges. I remember in the Super Bowl in 2008 he won a tight challenge on the Steelers opening drive and held them to a field goal when they apparently scored a running touchdown–it was not a cut and dry call at the time.
    Hey Darren – if the Cards finish 8-8 or 9-7 – regardless of playoffs – this might be Whiz’s best year as a coach in Arizone – beside the Super Bowl year of 2008!! I believe his best years as a coach in year order are: 2008, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2010. What do you think???? 4 of 5 good coaching years–not bad!!

  4. By Tyrelle on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    How many times have the Cards wore the Black jersey?

  5. By Darren Urban on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    Tyrelle —

    RE: Black jerseys

    They can wear it twice every regular season. So four times in two seasons.

  6. By Kevin S on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    I agree with not challenging in that situation. You can’t risk playing the rest of the game with no challenges and the result isn’t that critical — it gives them a first down deep in their own territory; you assume you can stop them.

    With both challenges available, you throw the flag there. With only one, I don’t think so.

    I seem to recall Whiz having a couple pretty questionable challenges recently. The challenge on the SF pass to Williams (the one that saved us from the fake FG) was actually a pretty bad challenge as I recall — there was no way that play was getting overturned. Of course, it turns out the replay wasn’t working and so no challenge occurred and then SF missed the FG. So based on the result, it was great, but I don’t know who the heck was telling him to throw the flag there. I didn’t think the first challenge yesterday was a very good one either — I agree that moving them back 8 more yards for the FG try is a good move if you’re pretty sure you’re going to win the challenge, but I think you have to know it’s going to be reversed to use a challenge in that situation that early in the game. It isn’t worth it if the call has a good chance of holding up.

  7. By Flood on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    -Kevin, I still say Whiz was not challenging the catch.Earlier in that play Alex Smith was almost sacked and it was hard to tell if Alex Smith’s knee had touch the ground as he escaped. After they showed five different angles you could tell it didn’t but we have that benefit and they need to make a quick decision.

  8. By Paul H on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    Some thoughts. Not giving up on them at all but who would have thought the Cards recent rally would have occurred pretty much without Kevin Kolb and Stewart Bradley. Rashad has played good but Kerry looked real fast out there. Be careful Rashad. Could have had a couple of late hits called. Sure glad that Browns player missed the block on that Cardinal punt in second half. That miss may have saved the victory. Just one or two plays early in game can determine outcome. On the flip side, would love to have those missed FG’s back in Seattle early in season. Such a funny game. Sometimes I feel like the kid standing next to Jerry Jones last week, I just can’t bear to watch. One last thing. Hope the Cards players pick the right shoes to wear this week on a potential wet field turf in Cincy. Could be the difference. Please no overtime game this weekend. I really don’t want to hide in the bathroom on Christmas Eve

  9. By joe67 on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    I don’t know where all the talk about uniforms and helmets is coming from, but I have always wanted to see a stripe down the center of the helmet. Red, black or a red black combo (if done tastefully) would really give the whole uni a knew look. I have a feeling Mr Bidwill would never allow it tho.

  10. By Hjalte Danish Cardinalfan on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    The cards has tiebreakers against, falcons & Cowboys, lions.
    If they win out..
    Bears need to loose a game if not both falcons and lions loose both..
    Cowboys and giants dont matter, giants and cowboys meet in last week, so tie break against cowboys hold up or giants become max. 8-8.

    They “easiest” way (in my opinion) in the playoff will be lions loosing against Chargers and GB.
    and bears loosing to either GB or Vikings..
    And of course cards winning out.


  11. By G. Witt on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    The thing is when Wallace was sacked and lost the ball, Whiz challanged it and the Big Red got the ball on the 51/2 yard line. We couldn’t get it in the end zone on three tries. We settled for a field goal. We still don’t have the “Killer Instinct”. We are becoming the cardiac kids. I think that was the browns nick name back in the seventies.

  12. By Peter in Canada on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    IMO the Cards had the best unis in the NFL. Red top and white pants. Colourful but tasteful and traditional. These all red ones look like Hallowe’en costumes. The players should be carrying pitchforks and wearing horns. The black ones are just a ripoff of the Steelers/Raiders. We are the CARDS be proud of it.Bring back the red and white.

  13. By John the Draft Guy on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    A few questions;

    1. In your opinion, what do the Cards need to do the last 2 games to be considered a successful season?
    win both?
    Beat Seattle?
    Playoffs or bust?
    See Kolb play well?

    2. Do you feel that Acho and Schofield have done enough for the cards to look elsewhere in the draft and be happy with the OLB position?

    3.In year one, Who was the best offseason pickup? Who was the worst? (including draft) . Who is the best-under-the-radar player?
    * Kolb * Marshall
    * Colledge * Peterson
    * R. Williams * Bradley
    * Sherman * Acho
    * Heap * Eason
    * Housler * Holiday
    * King * Carter

    Cards fans, please put your two cents in too.

  14. By Darren Urban on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    John the Draft Guy —

    RE: Questions

    To have a successful season, I’d think you want to make the playoffs. Given the circumstances, however, I think there has to be a pride taken if they can at least get to .500 or better. Certainly, having Kolb play and play well the last couple games would be better, but I don’t know if that changes his narrative for 2011.

    I think the Cards need more defensive depth, which to me means bringing in at least another OLB. Haggans is getting up there and he is still a starter.

    I think “best” and “worst” aren’t exactly tags that work for me. Obviously, Acho has made an impact no one expected and that’s been a big deal. I think Jeff King is a better tight end, including receiving, than he’s been given credit for. I think injuries have ruined Heap and Kolb’s chances to be what the Cards wanted them to be. Does that make them bad acquisitions? I don’t necessarily think so, although it’s tough, given expectations, not to call their seasons disappointing. Bradley too was expected to make a much bigger impact.

  15. By Mal on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply


    I’ve seen Cardinal fans post on here from Australia, Hawaii, and even Brazil, but Denmark? How does someone become a Cards fan in Denmark? How do you watch the games — it would be the middle of the night?

    Anyhow, glad to have you with us, friend.

  16. By Superfuzz on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    Agree totally with Peter in Canada about the unis

  17. By Hjalte Danish Cardinalfan on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    # Mal.

    The first game starts at 19:00 and second 22:00. (3rd 02:20)So its not that bad 🙂
    I currently got gamepass, so i can watch every Cards game..

    First started watching NFL (really) in 2009 season. Became a fan of Fitz and Warnen and there big play ability.. My love has just grown since 🙂

  18. By Hjalte Danish Cardinalfan on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    Danish television is also showing 3 games every sunday, mnf, tnf and so on.
    So the broadcasting is great for a 5 million population tv.

  19. By Kevin S on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    JZoully, you are right about that particular playoff scenario. If CHI/DET/ATL/AZ all are 9-7, CHI gets the first berth based on what would then be an 8-4 conference record and AZ gets the next at 7-5 (ATL/DET would be 6-6). If DAL and NYG are 9-7 as well, don’t worry — NYG wins division and DAL also loses the tiebreaker to us.

    If one of DET and ATL wins at least one more game, but the other doesn’t, then the one that does, obviously gets one WC spot with 10 or more wins. Then there will be one WC spot for the 9-7 teams to fight over. We will win tiebreakers against EVERY potential 9-7 WC team except the Bears in that scenario.

  20. By Kevin S on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply


    Not a criticism, just an observation, but of all the people who would be churning over the playoff possibilities, I’d think you’d be one of them…? I get that it wasn’t really worth discussing much when the Cards were 4-7, but now at 7-7, it’s actually not all that unlikely if they can win out. And there really aren’t that many permutations — it’s actually pretty simple to work through with 2 weeks left.

  21. By AndyStandsUp on Dec 20, 2011 | Reply

    @ Kevin,
    Not to speak for Darren, but since he can’t stop me unless he blocks my comment:

    1.) He’s previously stated he’s not a math guy. To him, 63 million and 500,000 are the same amount.
    2.) He also said that he wouldn’t talk playoff scenarios until the Cards reach 7-7. But AZ has struggled in the first half and hasn’t been tied in the first quarter since Tebow knows when.
    And 3.) Using those “playoff machines” is for girly men. Darren knows the people on 24th and Van Buren know the real deal. (Well, and the Mayans, but they’re currently not available for interviews.)

  22. By graetschinger on Dec 21, 2011 | Reply


    cards fans are everywhere…in europe off course, too!

    i’m from germany and a fan since super bowl 43…heart breaking, but i love the cardinals! this was my first game i’ve ever seen

  23. By DumagueteMike on Dec 21, 2011 | Reply

    Add another international location, I live in the Philippines. I’m an ASU grad who had season tickets all through the 90’s (brutal empty stands at Sun Devil). Moved away for work in 2000, but followed the Cards on DirectTV. Thank goodness for NFL GamePass, I get to wake up on Monday mornings and watch an HD broadcast of the game with my coffee!

  24. By Mike Ellingboe on Dec 22, 2011 | Reply

    @John the Draft Guy,

    If we’re including the draft, to me the addition of Peterson was the best off-season pick-up, by far. He has superstar written all over him.

    On that note, I’d like to see us follow the same formula for the 12 draft as the 11 draft, meaning don’t draft by position, take the best guy available. With DRC & Toler we didn’t really need a CB, but look how well it turned out. I am encouraged by how well Acho & Schofield improved, but if there’s a pass rush terror available and only mediocre LT’s still around then go that route. I’m not nearly as down on Levi as most, but nobody would look back and say that it wasn’t a colossal error to pass on AP.

    Regardless of how it ends up, I look at this season as a success mainly for the improvement over the previous season. Davis managed to make a group of all-pros look awful, now our “D” has the look of a top 5 unit. If Skelton, Beanie, Doucet & Roberts keep doing what they’re doing teams won’t be able to just run double/triple teams at Fitz and shutting our offense down the easy way. The future for them looks brighter than it has in a long time, I know it looked good prior to 08 but we knew Warner was reaching the home stretch, this group looks more primed for long-term success than any I can think of.

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