Can the Arizona Cardinals Really Trust Carson Palmer at the Helm?

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Can the Arizona Cardinals Really Trust Carson Palmer at the Helm?

At Carson Palmer’s introductory press conference with the Arizona Cardinals, new head coach Bruce Arians proclaimed with a smile, “I’m here to introduce our starting quarterback.”

But can Palmer really be trusted at the helm?

After all, he has led his team to a playoff berth just twice and is 0-2 in playoff games. Not to mention his 54-67 (.446) record as a starting quarterback. Add to it the fact that he throws interceptions at inopportune moments and you might say Palmer is already done in the Valley.

Right?

You won’t get off that easy. The following numbers took a great deal of time to compile, and while all situations are different and have many variables, numbers do not lie.

Taking statistics from the 2012 season, what you are about to read may or may not prove Palmer can get it done in Arizona. That has yet to be determined and cannot be stated with any degree of certainty.

However, looking at how he performed in four key situations—put up against the other starting quarterbacks in the NFC West, last year’s Cardinals quartet and a dozen other prominent NFL starters—will prove he can be trusted to run Arians’ offense.

 

Vertical Passing Game

Palmer struggled throwing deep in 2012, though his receivers in Oakland didn’t help him any. His completion percentage and yards per attempt are low compared to the majority of other QBs listed.

However, he does display the ability to make every throw. And compared to Arizona’s quarterbacks last season, he’s a godsend. (That statement is a recurring theme throughout this piece.)

His interception percentage was seventh-lowest of the 17. That’s fine, but his touchdown percentage ranked above only the man who replaced him in Cincinnati, Andy Dalton, and the Cardinals quarterbacks he is replacing.

As of Saturday’s Red and White practice, I had attended all seven sessions the team graciously opened to the public. Palmer does throw a beautiful deep ball, and he has been completing them with regularity to this point.

The vertical game should be a big threat to opposing defenses in 2012. Between Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and even tight end Rob Housler, Palmer will pile up plenty of passing yards this season.

 

Play-Action Passing

Palmer's 89.47 passer rating on play action (PA) seems good enough. But when compared to other NFL quarterbacks, it’s not up to par. No one in the division finished in the top half of those listed.

But Palmer does not turn the ball over after a play-action fake, as evidenced by just one interception on play action last season—his 0.9-percent interception rate is second-lowest to Eli Manning, who did not throw a single play-action pick in 2012.

Last year’s head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, called play action on just over 12 percent of attempts. That will increase under Arians, but not by much. Playing under Arians last season with the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck split the difference between the Cardinals offense and Palmer, and Palmer’s totals this season should come close to matching Luck’s. Expect around 17 percent of his passing plays to come off play action.

Also expected to jump—and by a large amount—are Palmer’s yards per attempt off the play action. One can imagine that waiting for receivers to finish bad routes in hopes they would miraculously get open got old for Palmer with the Oakland Raiders. Poor receiver play is certainly an explanation as to why Palmer relied more on checkdown throws in 2012 than in years past.

In fact, his top two receivers, tight end Brandon Myers and fullback/running back Marcel Reece, combined for 131 receptions. Palmer’s top two wide receivers (Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey) combined for just 92 receptions.

That will not be the case in Arizona, as from top to bottom, his receiving corps is the best he has ever worked with, according to the man himself, via AZCardinals.com.

This is, from top to bottom, the best group of receivers I’ve been around. There’s very experienced veterans that have been in different offenses that really understand the game, and there’s some really, really good young talent learning from those veterans. So this is definitely the best group.

 

Accuracy Under Pressure

Now, we start getting into areas where Palmer thrives. Notice how he was under pressure at nearly an identical clip to Arizona's quarterbacks last year.

Then take a look at his sack percentage—the percentage of times he was pressured that resulted in a sack.

That’s not a coincidence. While Palmer has the ability to get rid of the football quicker than most, he is better at avoiding pressure than most fans realize (some observers have the means to find out but are too lazy to do so, while others don’t have the means but listen to those too lazy to do the research).

The table to the right shows, from top to bottom, the average time it took from the snap of the ball for Palmer and the Cardinals quarterbacks to release it, their numbers when taking 2.5 seconds or fewer to release the ball and their numbers when taking 2.6 seconds or longer to get rid of it.

The average time to let loose is a bit skewed for the Cardinals, as Kevin Kolb and John Skelton averaged 2.54 seconds from snap to release, while Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer averaged just 2.31 seconds.

The numbers that stand out are Palmer’s when forced to hold the ball longer. The only quarterbacks with a higher completion percentage when holding the ball 2.6 seconds or longer are Matt Ryan (63.5 percent) and Peyton Manning (66.3).

Having that kind of success behind a line that allowed 36 quarterback hits might seem surprising, but Palmer said that's just the kind of quarterback he is, as reported by Mike Sando of ESPN.com,:

That is my game. My strength isn’t making a guy miss and getting out and running for a first down on 3rd-and-12. The strength of my game is, I’m 245 pounds, I absorb hits, I’ll stay in the pocket and hold it to the very last second for a guy to come out on a certain concept—not taking a sack, but holding onto the ball and waiting for the guy to get open to get that completion.

 

Trailing Late and Losing

Remember the comment above that had Palmer throwing too many untimely interceptions?

That’s simply false.

He did throw five fourth-quarter interceptions in 2012, and only Andrew Luck and Drew Brees (six each), Ryan Fitzpatrick (seven) and Philip Rivers (eight) threw more.

But Palmer is on top of the list of quarterbacks who threw at least five fourth-quarter interceptions last year in lowest interception rate. With so many attempts, interceptions are going to happen.

Palmer was at his best last season late in the second and fourth quarters, and he outdid every other NFC West quarterback in those situations.

With as many close games as the Cardinals seem to play every season, solid late-game play from their quarterback could really come in handy. In fact, since Palmer’s first start for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2004, only Peyton, Brees, Eli Manning and Tom Brady have more touchdown passes in that situation than Palmer does (see the entire list here).

 

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Conclusion

The fact that Palmer outperformed Arizona’s quarterbacks by a mile in every category highlighted should be proof enough that he can be trusted with the keys to Arians’ offense.

The fact that he did so with a pile of garbage as his receiving corps leaves proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that—given his current weapons—he can lead the offense to big things in 2012 and beyond.

He may not have many years left, but he could have his best years ahead of him running the downfield, attacking offense employed by Arians in Arizona.

 

All stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.

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