A new head coach and a new general manager gave the Arizona Cardinals hope this past offseason. Fans and media members alike believed Bruce Arians and Steve Keim had the necessary know-how to upgraded a porous quarterback position and one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, the same demons that have haunted this team for the last three seasons are haunting them again in 2013. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Arizona’s offensive line is the worst pass-blocking unit in the NFL, and quarterback Carson Palmer is the 22nd-best signal-caller in the league.
Palmer should feel lucky to be the 22nd-best quarterback at this point. His performances the last five weeks have been downright atrocious. Over the course of his last five contests, the 11-year veteran has thrown two or more interceptions in every game and his quarterback rating is 62.4.
Yet Arians continues to deflect blame away from his quarterback on a weekly basis. The first-year head coach is quick to point out the flaws of every offensive player, except Palmer. Here are a couple examples of how the blame week in and week out never falls on his shoulders:
Arians said both of Carson Palmer interceptions were not his fault. @foxsports910— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) October 18, 2013
Sure, it’s not Palmer’s fault that the hog mollies upfront pretend to be cardboard cutouts at times, but to totally divert the blame is simply idiotic. Instead of coddling his quarterback’s ego, Arians needs to hold him accountable. How will he ever learn if he doesn’t?
Is Arians intentionally fooling himself by coming to Palmer’s aid so he doesn’t have to face the reality of this team’s quarterback situation? Maybe so, but it’s time to stop pretending and start acting. At 3-4, the Cardinals still have a shot at a wild-card berth with nine games remaining. This, in turn, means their season is not over by a long shot.
Yet the question worth visiting is whether or not Palmer can lead this team to the playoffs in spite of his fragile psyche and uninspiring play. Arizona’s defense is doing its part. Heading into Week 8, the team has the 15th-best defense in the league based on total yardage and the ninth-best third-down defense.
It’s evident that Arizona’s defense is light years ahead of its offense. However, defenses alone no longer win championships. Top-notch quarterback play, in addition to strong play on the defensive side of the ball, wins championships in the NFL today. So, what are the Cardinals to do?
Even though Arians seems overly invested in Palmer, he didn’t scoff at the idea of replacing him in the starting lineup. Chris Wessling of NFL.com dropped an interesting tidbit in an article he wrote after Arizona’s Week 7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
At the conclusion of Thursday night’s game, Arians told Wessling that if particular areas of Palmer’s game are hurting the club, he would look into making a change:
Is it his decision-making? If it's his decision-making, then we make a change. But the first one to me was obvious pass interference and the safety makes a great play. The second one was just a poor decision. Those are the ones we have to look at.
Arians must have only considered making a change this past week, because Palmer’s erratic style of play has been going on for some time now. But that’s OK; it’s often best not to overreact. Overreacting often leads to rash decisions that come back to bite you more often than not.
Yet yanking Palmer and playing the alternative (Drew Stanton) would mean Arians is making the move for good and not looking back. On a struggling team, it’s OK to experiment when the organization has young quarterbacks on the roster, but playing quarterback carousel with a vested veteran is risky business.
In total, the Cardinals have $10 million worth of guaranteed money invested in Palmer over the course of two years, which means they have to tread lightly and not admit their mistake too quickly. As soon as they admit their mistake and move on, the 33-year-old quarterback is as good as dead to both parties.
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Palmer doesn’t take well to being benched or publicly humiliated.
Let’s take a moment to step back and examine how easily disgruntled Palmer gets when he feels threatened. At the end of his tenure in Cincinnati, he became restless thanks in large part to the organization's lack of vision and “W’s” in the win column.
Instead of playing out the contract he signed, he stomped his feet and whined until Bengals owner Mike Brown traded him to the Oakland Raiders for two draft picks. Palmer was elated to head to the Bay Area. He felt it was the fresh start he deserved and desired.
Lo and behold, it didn’t take Palmer long to grow tired of Oakland and its incompetent ways. In 25 games as a member of the Raiders, he tossed 30 interceptions, posted a quarterback rating of 82.9 and completed 60.9 percent of his passes. Additionally, he helped the franchise win eight games during that span.
When the Raiders approached Palmer about a pay cut prior to the 2013 season, he refused. His refusal was a roundabout way of saying, “I don’t want to be here anymore. I would appreciate it if you would cut me loose or trade me.”
It was apparent that general manager Reggie McKenzie wanted to get younger (Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn) at the quarterback position; Palmer knew that. Things would have been different if he had played at a high level, but that was so far from the case that he needed to move on.
His journey to Arizona was pretty telling in terms of how he handles criticism. He simply doesn’t handle it well. And when the going gets tough, his mindset resorts to quitting. Has he quit on Arizona this season? No. But will he quit on the team once it's out of playoff contention? Probably.
Palmer’s past events are the exact reason as to why the Cardinals can’t look back if they yank him.
Undoubtedly, Arians will have a decision to make in the coming weeks if Palmer doesn’t snap out of his funk. Yet the million-dollar question is as follows: How much longer can the Cardinals fool themselves with Palmer at quarterback?
When you look at their schedule, Arizona could limp into the bye week at 4-4 and finish the season with six or sevens wins. Some fans and pundits would consider that a win, but is that truly good enough based on Palmer’s salary? No.
The truth is that Arians and Keim can sit back and fool themselves as long as they want. Yet if they value their jobs, the sooner they wash their hands clean of Palmer, the better. Unluckily, it doesn’t appear as if that will happen until 2014.
The Cardinals made a mistake pinning their hopes to Palmer in the first place. Now, they are dealing with the consequences seven games into the season with no other answer at the quarterback position.