Before I hit it big as a football writer for Rotoworld (humor me for a second here), I was just a regular college student at Syracuse University eating microwave burritos and playing Call of Duty (badly) in my dorm room. I still eat microwave burritos but that’s not the point. The point is, I needed money. So naturally, I took an unpaid internship with the Syracuse Chiefs.
Flawless logic, I know. Even if it wasn’t the most lucrative internship opportunity, I still enjoyed my time with the Chiefs. One of the perks of working in the press box, besides that $0 paycheck (they can’t tax what you don’t have, right?) was getting to talk shop with some of the local scouts.
I never became a scout, but I wondered what it would be like. How do you evaluate talent with such a limited sample size? Remember, Mike Trout was drafted 25th overall, not first or even in the top 10. That doesn’t happen unless some scout sees him go 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on a random Wednesday in April and comes back saying, “Nope. Not for us.”
Which brings me to Carson Palmer. Obviously Palmer isn’t some young buck trying to make it in this business. He’s been at it for over a decade with two Pro Bowl nods, two playoff appearances and a couple of ACL tears to show for it. What new information could we possibly learn about a guy who’s already played 150 NFL games?
Apparently quite a bit because Palmer has never gotten off to a start like this. No Arizona quarterback has. His 14 touchdowns through the Cardinals’ first six games are the most ever by an Arizona signal caller. But alas, when I finally sat down to do a film study on Palmer, much like Trout on that random Wednesday in April (we can only assume), he disappointed. Let’s go to the tape.
Palmer wasted no time going for the home run in Sunday’s 25-13 loss to Pittsburgh. His very first play from scrimmage went for 45 yards. This catch by John Brown was one of three Palmer completions to go for at least 40 yards.
The result of this play was positive, but was it a good throw? Personally I think it’s a little underthrown. If Brown caught this in stride, it could have easily gone for a touchdown. Mind you, this ball wasn’t nearly as underthrown as some of the passes I’ll show later, but it certainly wasn’t a picture-perfect throw. The pass was also thrown into fairly tight coverage. Ross Cockrell had a great chance to make a play but instead Brown bailed Palmer out with a terrific catch.
A week ago, I watched the Cardinals lay waste to a completely overmatched Lions secondary at Ford Field. Palmer and his elite receiving corps could do no wrong in that game. But that precision that guided Arizona in Week 5 wasn’t there Sunday against the Steelers. Look at this play, for instance.
Again, this could have gone so much worse. Instead of being a turnover, the Cardinals recovered the fumble to set up a third-and-long. But the miscommunication between Palmer and a seemingly unaware Chris Johnson on the handoff shows just how out of sync the Cardinals were on Sunday. There’s a noticeable indecision here, a definite sloppiness that persisted throughout this entire game. The next play provides another example.
Palmer sets up a first-and-goal with this 32-yard completion to Andre Ellington. That’s the good news. The bad news is this should have been six points. Instead of setting his feet, Palmer throws this ball on the run and badly underthrows Ellington, who makes a good play coming back to make the catch.
We’ve been ranking on the Steelers’ defense constantly this year but the pass rush did a nice job on this play. If Arizona’s O line had provided Palmer with better protection, he could have stayed in the pocket longer and delivered a much more accurate throw. Not that a 32-yard completion on third down is anything to be ashamed of.
The theme here, if you haven’t caught on, is that Palmer was just a bit off on Sunday. Even his lone touchdown pass nearly ended in disaster. Watch linebacker Sean Spence deflect Palmer’s pass at the line of scrimmage. Miraculously, the ball still finds its way into Michael Floyd’s hands for an easy touchdown.
Weather was a factor Sunday (it rained off and on in Pittsburgh) but that doesn’t excuse Palmer’s inaccuracy. To be fair though, this interception wasn’t his fault. Jermaine Gresham had his hands on the ball and couldn’t reel it in. Lawrence Timmons, who was covering Larry Fitzgerald at the time, showed great awareness by coming down with the interception. Palmer was probably due for a pick after getting a ton of breaks early in the game.
We know Palmer loves throwing the deep ball but here he hits Larry Fitzgerald on a simple screen pass to the left side. Jared Veldheer makes an outstanding block at the bottom of your screen, giving Fitz plenty of room to run. The result was Palmer’s second-longest completion of the game.
Palmer has made a living on third downs this year. His 125.3 passer rating far exceeds his performance on the other three downs (101.8). Sunday was no different.
You’ll have to decide for yourself if this was a good throw by Palmer or a better catch by Michael Floyd. If Sunday proved anything it’s that Palmer has tons of talent around him.
Give Palmer credit for recognizing these mismatches. I hate it when quarterbacks don’t have the courage to utilize their own weapons (looking at you, Alex Smith). Clearly that’s not the case with Palmer. There were times when Palmer was a little too daring Sunday but this wasn’t one of them.
Patrick Daugherty’s weekly rankings column is consistently epic. Here’s one of his recent excerpts: “Most of the world’s great stone monuments have already been built. We’re now a people of steel and glass. But travel to the outskirts of the Sonoran Desert, and you’ll find an impressive new piece of masonry: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.”
Translation: Palmer has the mobility of a scarecrow. I’ve highlighted Andy Dalton and Tyrod Taylor in past articles and both have shown an ability to make plays with their feet. That’s never been a big part of Palmer’s game. This was the only sack he took Sunday, but it was a big one against long-time rival James Harrison. Palmer lost eight yards on the play.
With the Cardinals trailing in the third quarter, Palmer decided to stretch the field vertically with another deep bomb to Brown along the sideline.
This 42-yard completion looks remarkably similar to Palmer’s first pass of the game. Like the first one, the ball was way underthrown. But Brown, who totaled a career-high 196 yards on Sunday, made a nice adjustment to come back for it.
To Palmer’s credit, on a play like this, it’s better to underthrow it than overthrow it. An overthrow surely would have landed in the hands of Antwon Blake, who inexplicably peeled off Brown at the last second.
Palmer was having a phenomenal drive before the pick, going 4-for-5 for 44 yards. Desperate times often call for extreme measures, but with over two minutes left and only down by two points, Palmer had no reason to force this pass into double coverage. He should have admitted defeat and thrown it out of bounds or at least to the back of the end zone where Mitchell wouldn’t have been able to make a play on it.
Anyone who’s ever seen Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase knows it only takes one bad bulb to ruin a whole string of lights. Sunday, that bad bulb was the Cardinals’ running game. The Cards managed a season-low 55 rushing yards on 20 attempts. With Chris Johnson getting nowhere on the ground, Palmer couldn’t establish the play-action, a tool he’s used very effectively throughout the season.
When throwing for 421 yards is considered a rough day at the office, you’re probably having a pretty good season. Look for Palmer to bounce back next week against the Ravens.