Carson Palmer's Continuing Struggles Threaten to Sink Cardinals' Season

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystSeptember 12, 2017

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws against the Detroit Lions during the first half of an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)
Jose Juarez/Associated Press

This year was going to be different. 

After struggling in 2016, veteran quarterback Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals was supposed to rebound to his Pro Bowl form of 2015. Having rested his arm more this offseason than in years past, Palmer was supposed to be rejuvenated in 2017.

So much for that notion. It took Palmer all of one series Sunday to throw his first of three interceptions. And after a clunker of a performance in Motown, where Palmer looked every bit of his 37 years, the Cardinals are staring at a couple of harsh realities.

With star running back David Johnson on the shelf indefinitely with a dislocated wrist, it's going to fall to Palmer to carry the Arizona offense.

And he's given zero indication over the past year-plus that he's capable of doing that.

As Darren Urban of the team's website reported, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians expressed confidence in Palmer and the passing attack.

"I'm extremely confident," Arians said. "Especially with where Carson is [but] more because I feel good about our protection and the rest of the guys."

As it turns out, that confidence was misplaced.

Palmer's fourth pass of the game was intercepted by Detroit safety Tavon Wilson. In fact, it seemed like Wilson was the primary target on the play.

It was not a good look.

After Arizona cornerback Justin Bethel returned the favor (and then some) with a pick-six, it appeared Palmer had dodged a bullet.

But late in the fourth quarter, Palmer's third interception of the game was returned 35 yards for a score by safety Miles Killebrew to cap a run of 26 unanswered points by the Lions that turned a 17-9 Cardinals lead into a 35-17 deficit.

By the time Palmer finally threw a touchdown pass, to J.J. Nelson, the game was already over. Palmer finished 27-of-48 for 269 yards and a score with three picks and a passer rating of 53.2.

Palmer was frank in discussing his outing with Kyle Odegard of the team's website.

"I just didn't do a good enough job," he said. "I put that solely on myself. I'm disappointed in myself. I just felt like had I made a handful of throws, we would have been in a different position."

Arians was more blunt, calling Palmer's performance "poor" and saying, "You can't throw that many interceptions."

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 18:  Head Coach Bruce Arians of the of the Arizona Cardinals and Carson Palmer #3 look on before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 18, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Ge
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Part of the blame lies with a Cardinals O-line that didn't play especially well, but the majority rests squarely with No. 3. Palmer missed open receivers and forced passes that probably never should have been thrown—especially by a 14-year veteran.

For his part, Palmer pledged to right the ship Sunday in Indianapolis.

"You've got to get past it," Palmer said. "We will get past it. I will get past it. We've got another big road game—playing in another environment similar to this—next week. Sunday can't come fast enough. We've got to get the work done, but at the same time, I can't wait to get this taste out of my mouth and move past this."

Luckily for the Cardinals, there wasn't a team in the NFL that looked worse than the Colts in Week 1. But the reprieve is likely to be temporary, because it doesn't look like Palmer circa 2015 is coming back.

Simply put, he hasn't looked right for any significant stretch of time since he injured his finger late that season. Maybe it was the injury. Maybe his disastrous performance in the NFC Championship Game against the Carolina Panthers rattled him. Or maybe Palmer just got old.

Carson Palmer Stats
YearComp. %Yards/GTD/GINT/GRatingW-L-T
201563.7291.92.20.7104.613-3-0
201661.0282.21.70.987.26-8-1
201756.3269.01.03.053.20-1-0
Pro Football Reference

Whatever the reason, one of the few numbers that went up for Palmer last year relative to the season before was interceptions. If Sunday's faceplant was any indication, it's a trend that isn't going to reverse itself any time soon.

Sure, there have been good games scattered here and there. But for every solid performance there's been a Detroit. Palmer hasn't gone three games without an interception since that magical 2015 season. After Arizona's Week 9 bye last year, Palmer had as many games with a passer rating under 75 as he did with one over 100.

A Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterback who's pushing 40 does not inspire the warm and fuzzies...especially after an offseason of preparation resulted in a turkey right out of the gate.

Last year, Palmer's struggles led Arizona to rely more heavily on Johnson, who responded by setting an NFL record with 100 or more yards from scrimmage in each of the first 15 games of a season. But he's not an option at present, as the third-year pro could be out for up to three months.

If Johnson misses significant time, Palmer will have to drop back and throw the ball 45 times a game...every game. Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington don't scare anyone on the ground.

It's easy to overreact to the first Sunday of NFL action following a long offseason, to read too much into 60 minutes of play.

But this wasn't a new development—it was a continuation of the same issues that resulted in a disappointing 7-8-1 campaign for the Cardinals last year.

The bounceback Palmer and Arians forecast for 2017 doesn't appear to be coming. Palmer looks his age. He looks done.

And if that's the case, so is Arizona.