When Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim made the decision this past offseason to trade for quarterback Carson Palmer, there’s no question they knew it had the potential to be a low-risk, high-reward move.
Pundits from around the league had varying opinions on the trade. Some felt Palmer’s better days were behind him, while others believed he could resurrect his career in Arians’ offense. However, based on his numbers as a member of the Oakland Raiders, the odds of a career resurrection were slim to none.
In all reality, those who bet against Palmer had to have been smiling from ear to ear after the first seven games of the season.
The 11th-year signal-caller was performing at an incredibly poor level during the Cardinals' 3-4 start. Palmer was not only throwing interceptions left and right, but he was also missing wide-open receivers on a consistent basis. When a quarterback throws 13 interceptions on 266 pass attempts, there should be a genuine concern in regard to his decision-making skills.
Yet it’s a good thing Arizona didn’t throw in the towel and supplant Palmer with Drew Stanton. Sure, that would have been a crazy move in hindsight, but there were plenty of fans that were calling for Palmer's dismissal after his horrid start to the season.
The good news is Palmer and the rest of the Cardinals offense have been on fire over the course of the last four games. Since its Week 7 trouncing in the desert on Thursday Night Football, Arizona has done a complete 180. Its offense has averaged 376.5 yards per game, while its defense has forced eight turnovers.
From an individual standpoint, during the Cardinals' four-game win streak, Palmer has thrown for 1,146 yards, tossed eight touchdowns through the air and compiled a quarterback rating of 110.6. Yes, the uptick in production has come as a surprise, but the top-notch performances have Arizona vying for one of the two wild-card spots in the NFC.
The unexpected turnaround from Palmer leads us to the $1 million question: How did Arians revive the 33-year-old quarterback’s career? Even though it may seem like a long, drawn-out explanation is necessary based on Palmer’s turnaround, the answer to his revival is quite simple.
For Palmer, he deserves a ton of credit for the way he has taken it upon himself to improve his decision-making skills. Instead of trying to force the issue and attempt low-percentage throws into double and triple coverage, he has started to openly trust his receivers more.
Additionally, Arians believes Palmer’s comprehension of the offense has helped him annul his poor start. Here’s what the 61-year-old coach told the media following the Cardinals' win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, via Dave Dulberg of ArizonaSports.com:
I think he has a total understanding of what we're doing. I think you can start seeing it in practice. A lot fewer balls are on the ground in practice. Guys are talking and communicating—whether it be the lunch room or anywhere—about football.
Yet Arians’ praise didn’t stop there. At the conclusion of the Indianapolis Colts game, he told Bob McManaman of AZcentral.com that Palmer doesn’t even have to use his eyes anymore when he is throwing to Arizona’s top pass-catching targets:
I think Carson right now could go out and throw certain routes to Larry (Fitzgerald), Mike (Floyd), Andre (Ellington) and now, Robby (Housler), too, with a blindfold on.
That’s what you want. You want to be able to go out there and play with a blindfold on and know they’re going to be in this exact spot when my back foot hits the ground. That’s when you’re starting to start clicking.
Could it be that Palmer’s arm strength and accuracy never went away while he was in Oakland? It’s quite possible that his limitations over the course of the past two seasons were due to an inferior talent base around him.
Blaming a quarterback for a team’s inefficiencies is easy to do when that respective team is losing, but more often than not, particular variables can be just as impactful. Moreover, there are times when a player needs a fresh start with a new coaching staff.
And when that player gets a fresh start, it’s important that the organization shows patience in his development. Just because Palmer has been in the NFL for 11 seasons, it doesn’t mean he will pick up a brand-new offensive scheme overnight.
In fact, Palmer noted that Arians’ offense is the most complicated scheme he has had to learn.
Surely, Arians’ patience with Palmer has paid off, but that doesn’t mean No. 3’s play has been perfect. While Palmer's getting better, the Cardinals are still making some erroneous pre-snap reads. Undoubtedly, those mistakes fall on the shoulders of the quarterback.
Nonetheless, no one player in the NFL is perfect. The key to those sloppy pre-snap calls is improvement. As long as Palmer is making progress and improving in all facets of his game, Arizona will continuously progress on a weekly basis.
Often times as observers of the NFL, we get too caught up in the numbers and only measure the things we can see with our eyes. Sometimes you can find the answer to your question by digging a little bit deeper and analyzing the facts that aren’t measurable on the surface.
This is what had to be done in terms of Palmer. It was evident that he didn’t gain more arm strength and better accuracy once he hit the halfway point of the season. As I mentioned above, those things have always been there. The real breakthrough happened when the offense got on the same page and started playing as a cohesive unit.
From now until the end of the season, the Cardinals need to find a way to keep getting better. They haven’t peaked yet with five regular-season games left to play. Yet it’s obvious that the offense is still leaving too many points on the field.
Improved production on third down and in the red zone will help Arizona avoid leaving points on the field moving forward.
Palmer may not be in the desert after next season, but he is playing at an unprecedented level right now thanks in large part to Arians’ ability to bring his career back to life. Because of the revival, the Cardinals may be in line for their first postseason appearance since Kurt Warner was taking snaps under center.
Furthermore, it’s easy to see what an offensive mastermind and Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback can do for a team’s fortunes. Aside from Palmer, the franchise as a whole is on the up and up as a result of Arians and Keim.
Cardinals fans appear to be in good hands for quite a long time.