The quarterback position for the Arizona Cardinals has undergone an overhaul this offseason. They cut Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, signed former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Drew Stanton in free agency and traded for Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders.
Palmer, who's expected to be the starter, is a good fit for Arians' offense, which is the first step to getting his career back on track. Arians' offense uses multiple formations as a disguise to set up the vertical passing game, which requires a strong armed quarterback. Is Palmer that? According to general manager Steve Keim, Palmer still has the juice. (via profootballtalk.com)
We started doing our due diligence on Carson in January. And with our new video system, I was able to cut up every one of his passing plays for the last three seasons. I came away very, very pleasantly surprised. A lot of times in this business, you base your opinions on reputations. And when you study a guy, you come away disappointed or surprised. In this case, I saw that Carson still has the zing and can still make all the throws. That’s huge, especially with what Bruce wants out of his quarterback.
Despite Keim's comments, many are still wondering if Palmer has the arm strength to throw the deep ball very well. II dug into the tape to find out for myself.
Reviewing his 2012 season, I found that Palmer still has the velocity to throw vertically. He has the ability to make throws outside the numbers and deep into the middle of the field.
One game that stood out while watching Palmer's performance last season was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9. Against the Bucs, he attempted a season-high 61 passes and made some 'wow' throws.
One of them came late in the second quarter on 1st-and-10. The offense had two pass-catching threats on each side of the formation and Palmer was in shotgun set. Defensively, the Bucs lined up one deep safety as part of their Cover 1 (Man-Free) coverage.
At the snap, Palmer took a quick three-step drop and threw the football to his right. To that side was then-teammate and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who ran a go-route against cornerback E.J. Biggers. This was an automatic matchup advantage for the Raiders because Biggers is speed-deficient and Heyward-Bey is far from it.
The throw showed that Palmer still had the arm strength, as he delivered the ball down the sideline nearly 40 yards downfield with deep accuracy. The ball placement was sensational, landing outside the right shoulder of Heyward-Bey. It's where quarterbacks are taught to throw the ball and Palmer did it with ease.
Another throw that stood out was a strike to wide receiver Denarius Moore in the middle of the field.
The middle is one area that will be vital for Palmer to throw well because Arians requires his quarterbacks to throw multiple inside-breaking and vertical routes. It was commonly seen in the Colts offense last year as well as Arians' years with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.
Before Palmer made the throw to Moore, he stood in shotgun set and faced the Bucs Cover 3 (four under, three deep) zone coverage. Moore was to his right and faced Biggers, who was shaded inside. He was going to be running a dig route that would work in front of the near safety and behind the underneath coverage.
At the snap, that's exactly how Moore ran his route and Palmer found him for a big catch. He drilled the football at the 45-yard-line in front of the deep defenders. The route and throw were very similar to the one Andrew Luck found Reggie Wayne on against the Green Bay Packers last season.
Clearly, Palmer has shown that he has enough arm strength to fit Arians' downfield passing game. However, he'll need to do more than that to play at a high level again.
He'll have to get the ball out quicker and make more accurate throws in the short-to-intermediate range. There were times last season when he was late throwing the ball (see Champ Bailey's interception) or flat-out inaccurate, as one can see in the video below.
There are two other significant factors that will help determine Palmer's play: the Cardinals' pass blocking and their running game.
It's no secret that the Cardinals need to improve their pass-blocking, as it has been one of the worst in the NFL the last few years. Last season, they gave up a league-leading 58 sacks. If Palmer's going to throw the ball downfield, he'll need to not only stay upright but have a clean pocket throughout the play.
Palmer does a good job of avoiding edge-rushers by climbing the pocket, but he struggles when he faces interior pressure. He is not very mobile, in general, and needs space to step through his throws and deliver the football. That's going to be particularly important in the new offense because it requires the quarterback to hold the ball longer while routes develop downfield.
In addition to pass protection, the Cardinals need their running game to step up. They averaged an appalling 3.4 yards per carry and a total of 75 yards per game, both last in the NFL. They signed running back Rashard Mendenhall during free agency but will also need to upgrade their offensive line. A strong running game will help the team when throwing play action, which will make it easier to throw downfield.
If the Cardinals can surround Palmer with a respectable running game and pass protection, he'll have a chance to revitalize his career, provided he is quicker getting the ball out accurately.
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