Arizona Cardinals Midseason Report Cards for Each Positional Unit
The Arizona Cardinals head into their bye week with a 27-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons at University of Phoenix Stadium. Rookie running back Andre Ellington led the way with 154 rushing yards including an 80-yard touchdown run. Carson Palmer threw for 172 yards, two touchdowns and only one interception.
The Cardinals picked off Matt Ryan four times in the second half to seal the win.
So everything should grade out wonderfully, right? No. It won't.
The Cardinals have had their good moments in the first half and they seem to be nearly even with the bad ones in the first half of the season. Arizona still has problems in the same areas as last season and the results are looking very similar despite a new coaching regime and general manager.
Start the slideshow below and let's see how Palmer grades out in the first half of the season.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has thrown every pass for the Cardinals this season except for one by cornerback Patrick Peterson. That makes it easy to assess the quarterback position as it's been all Palmer, unlike last year's fiasco at the position.
The first thing that stands out about Palmer is all of the interceptions he's thrown. He's been picked off at least once in every game this season and has a total of 13 of them halfway through the season. His yardage isn't there either. Palmer has three games with fewer than 200 yards passing in the first half of the season and only one game with more than 300 yards.
At times, Palmer exhibits poor decision making and tries to force the ball to receivers who are being double- or triple-covered, which results in turnovers. Palmer still makes mistakes like locking on to one receiver and letting his eyes tip the defense off as to who will be getting the ball. Those items are discussed in this article.
Arizona has been winning games because of its defense, not Palmer.
The Arizona running backs have been miserable most of the season.
Rashard Mendenhall started the season as the featured back and hasn't lived up to the billing. Mendenhall has 281 yards and three touchdowns on 92 carries. He hasn't had more than 17 carries in a game and has failed to record 70 rushing yards in any game this season. He sat out the loss to Atlanta with a toe injury that came at the wrong time.
Andre Ellington had his breakout game against the Falcons with 154 rushing yards highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown run. Ellington is also a threat in the passing game as well with 22 receptions out of the backfield. With his performance against Atlanta, the coaching staff has two weeks to decide if they want to change who will start as running back.
Alfonso Smith and Stepfan Taylor have contributed little to the ground game. Ryan Williams has been inactive for all eight games in the first half of the season. Williams has been a healthy scratch in every game, which is puzzling. According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, Williams being a healthy scratch has fueled speculation he might be traded before tomorrow's trade deadline.
Overall, the ground game hasn't gotten it done this season. The grade would be lower if Ellington didn't blow up against the Falcons yesterday.
The wide receiving unit has been dragged down by Palmer's poor play.
Larry Fitzgerald had a productive first half despite Palmer. Fitzgerald leads the team with 36 receptions for 470 yards and five touchdowns. Michael Floyd is posting good numbers for his second season in the league with 34 catches for 433 yards and two touchdowns.
But after those two, the production drops off dramatically.
Andre Roberts started out the season with 97 yards on eight catches in the opening game. Since then he has a total of 12 catches for 94 yards. The Cardinals have gone through a cycle of players at the fourth and fifth receiver spots but they haven't been productive.
That will be a problem depending on what happens with Fitzgerald. Rumors and speculation are abound that Fitzgerald might be traded before tomorrow's deadline. According to our Alex Kay, the buzz is still out there he might be moved. Potential destinations are unknown as of now.
Even if he isn't moved in the next 36 hours, Fitzgerald might be on his way out of Arizona after the season, according to ESPN.com's Adam Schefter.
We don't know what the future holds but this group of wide receivers is just average on the whole.
The tight end position has been miserable for Arizona. Rob Housler missed three games with an ankle injury but has been non-productive. Jim Dray picked up the slack but is often overlooked in the passing game. Kory Sperry has one catch on the season.
Other teams in the league use their tight end as effective and deadly weapons. Arizona isn't one of them. They simply use them as extra blockers with the rare pass-catching situation.
The offensive line has been weak this season to say the least.
Arizona has issues at left tackle. They traded away Levi Brown to Pittsburgh for a conditional draft pick. Brown got placed on IR so Arizona gets nothing in return except ridding themselves of Brown's bloated contract.
The rest of the line isn't much better. They are allowing Palmer to wind up like he is in that picture as he's been sacked 23 times for 159 yards in losses.
This group isn't creating running lanes and allowing slightly fewer sacks. It's barely any improvement over last year.
The defensive line is doing its part in slowing down opposing runners. Steven Jackson of the Falcons was limited yesterday to six rushing yards on 11 carries. They were also key in shutting down the Carolina Panthers earlier this season. Arizona is seventh in the league allowing 97 yards per game rushing.
After a slow start, the defensive line has been getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Darnell Dockett posted a three-sack game against New Orleans.
Nose tackle Dan Williams has experienced both highs and lows in the first half of the season. He ran an interception back two yards for a touchdown in the opening game. A couple weeks later, his father died in an auto accident as he was coming to New Orleans to watch his son play.
Karlos Dansby has been the glue that's held the linebackers together. Dansby has recorded 71 tackles, 10 passes defensed and 2.5 sacks in the first half of the season. Dansby had the extra workload since Daryl Washington was suspended for the first four games of the season.
While the inside linebackers have played well, the outside ones had a difficult first half. They lost Sam Acho (fractured fibula) and Lorenzo Alexander (foot) to season-ending injuries against the Saints. Alex Okafor also went down for the season that same week.
It's forced John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy into starting roles, according to the team's depth chart on its official site.
The linebackers are good against the run but they've been buzzsawed by opposing tight ends. Jared Cook (seven catches, 141 yards and two touchdowns) of the St. Louis Rams was a handful for Arizona. Jimmy Graham of the Saints had a strong game against Arizona with nine catches, 134 yards and two touchdowns. Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers carved the Cardinals for eight catches, 180 yards and two touchdowns.
With the remaining games after the bye, the linebackers should be able to focus on what they do best and that's stop the run.
The defensive backs are having a good year so far. They intercepted Matt Ryan four times yesterday, including a pair by Rashad Johnson.
Patrick Peterson is listed as a cornerback but has been all over the field on both sides of the ball. He has 21 tackles and three interceptions on defense. Offensively, he has a completed pass for 17 yards, an 11-yard rush and four catches for 47 yards. Safety Tyrann Mathieu has contributed nicely in his rookie season with 49 tackles and two interceptions in the first half of the season.
The downside is they've allowed 14 passing touchdowns and 2,034 passing yards in the first half of the season. They need to clamp down on both of those areas in order to have a better second half.
The other area of weakness is that Arizona has had a difficult time stopping the opposition on third down. They've allowed 45 conversions on 111 attempts against and must improve in that area.
Placekicker Jay Feely and punter Dave Zastudil have been two of the most consistent players for the Cardinals this season.
Feely has hit 13 consecutive field goals after missing from 50 yards out in the season opener.
Zastudil is averaging 45.1 yards per punt and has dropped 20 of his 42 punts this season inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Zastudil is helping Arizona win the field position battle and has been a key to Arizona's success in the field position battle.