Cardinals Quarterback Breakdown: Full Evaluation and Position Analysis

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Cardinals Quarterback Breakdown: Full Evaluation and Position Analysis
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Carson Palmer (left) and Larry Fitzgerald work at OTAs.

The Arizona Cardinals' quarterback situation was filled with injuries and poor play in 2012. The Cardinals used four starting quarterbacks during the 5-11 season and only one of them, Ryan Lindley, remains with the team at this time. 

The Cardinals have Carson Palmer to go with Drew Stanton and Lindley as the only three quarterbacks on the roster. Brian Hoyer was released by the team Monday according to NFL.com and joins John Skelton and Kevin Kolb as quarterbacks Arizona parted ways with this offseason.

Palmer signed a three-year deal with $10 million in guaranteed money and has a $4 million cap hit this season. Stanton signed a three-year, $8.2 million deal with $3 million in guarantees and a $1.66 million cap figure this season. Lindley still has four seasons on his deal, but his cap number is less than $700,000 in any of those seasons. 

It should be fairly obvious that Palmer is the heavy favorite to be the starter while Stanton and Lindley will battle for the backup gig. 

Palmer was good but not great for Oakland last season. He completed 345 of 565 passes for 4,018 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. But most of his stats came when the Raiders were trailing. Palmer threw 412 passes when the Raiders were trailing last season and only 47 when they had the lead. 

Let's take a look at the tape and see what can be expected from each quarterback. Palmer's first, and we'll review a pair of touchdown passes. 

In the first image, the Raiders are facing a 2nd-and-10 on their own 37-yard line late in the first quarter. Wide receivers Denarius Moore (blue arrow) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (maroon arrow) head downfield while running back Mike Goodson (yellow circle) will run into the flat to the right. Tight end Michael Huff (red arrow) runs motion across the line then back to where he started from. 

In the second image, Palmer throws a short screen pass to Goodson while he has two linemen pulling out to the right to throw lead blocks. On this play, Goodson speeds towards the sidelines and gets two blocks on his way to a 63-yard touchdown reception. 

The way this play was executed shows that Palmer can make the quick dump-off pass and give other players time to set downfield blocks and make big things happen. The application to the Cardinals is that this could be a potential setup for a short pass to Rashard Mendenhall or possible wide receiver screen passes. 

This play from the Raiders-Falcons game in October shows how well Palmer is able to run a play-action pass and get great results. 

This looks like a typical handoff to Darren McFadden. Note the three extra blockers marked with a yellow X on the right side of the line. Moore is lined up tight to the line and will run a slant that turns into a crossing route right at the sticks. 

The fake is in, and notice how everyone between the orange lines is heading towards the top of the screen. The Raiders have really sold this play fake and frozen the linebackers for a moment as well as moved the defensive line to the wrong side of the field. 

Palmer rolled out on a bootleg and had a good amount of time and space to find Moore for the completion. 

Moore makes the catch and ducks low while Atlanta linebacker Mike Peterson missed high on his tackle attempt. One more block downfield, and Moore gave the Raiders the lead. Even if Peterson makes the tackle, Oakland has a first down in the red zone and would be in range for a chip-shot field goal. 

Play-action passes are key to getting the vertical passing game going. Well-executed plays like this make Palmer a quarterback who should mesh well with Bruce Arians' coaching philosophy. 

Let's take a look at Lindley now. 

Lindley got the call in the middle of the game at Atlanta and replaced an ineffective Skelton in an eventual loss to the Falcons. He started in losses to the Rams, Jets and Bears while quarterbacking the team to a win over Detroit. He was also brought on in relief of Skelton when the Cardinals got thrashed 58-0 at Seattle

Lindley wasn't productive in his games as quarterback. He completed 89 of 171 passes for 750 yards and seven interceptions.

No, your eyes don't deceive you. He didn't throw a single touchdown pass in his appearances last season. He was sacked a dozen times and finished with a quarterback rating of 46.7, which was one of the worst numbers in the league. 

His tape isn't impressive, and his outing against the Jets (sans Darrelle Revis) shows it. 

In the first quarter, he has LaRod Stephens-Howling (red circle) open for a short gain and overthrows him high. Notice he has good protection (yellow arc). 

A few minutes later, Lindley has another shot for Stephens-Howling on a screen pass. He has two linemen who are ready to throw blocks, but Lindley overthrows him again. 

This angle is from the coaches' film.

His decision-making was also a little shoddy on this third-down play. The line to gain is in yellow. He has Larry Fitzgerald at the bottom of the screen and Michael Floyd on the numbers heading in towards the middle of the field (red arrow). There is another receiver also past the line to gain.

But Lindley throws to tight end Rob Housler. Housler is three yards short of the line to gain and gets piled on, failing to get a first down. 

While this was one game, it shows how rough of a time Lindley had with making relatively easy plays.

He was a rookie last season, and hopefully he's adjusted to the speed of the game and would be ready if needed. 

Stanton doesn't have any tape to review, since he didn't play a down in 2012. The last time he got a start was three seasons ago. He was at the helm for Detroit when the Lions broke their 26-game road losing streak. Stanton doesn't have much to offer when his film was broken down, as shown in this piece. 

This is Fitzgerald's 10th year in the league, and he is looking at having at least his 12th different quarterback to work with since he became a pro. If Palmer can seize the starting job, he might give Fitzgerald some long-sought consistency. 

It looks like Palmer's job to lose while Stanton and Lindley will battle it out for the backup spot. That decision will be key given the carousel of quarterbacks the Cardinals have ridden on. The battle for the backup job will be worth watching in camp. The question still remains how will they fare against the rest of the league as they try to get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. 

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