Arizona Cardinals Need More from Talented but Underperforming Michael Floyd

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystNovember 6, 2014

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver (15) Michael Floyd on the sidelines during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/John Cordes)
John Cordes/Associated Press

Let’s step back in time together for a moment. Not too far...and yes, the time vessel plays only Shaggy’s greatest hits with “Tubthumping” intermittently mixed in.

Accept my deepest apologies for that, but it’s only a minor annoyance on an important mission: a search for the ghost of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd.

The date is now Oct. 28, 2013, and Week 8 of the NFL season has just concluded. That also means the Cardinals are past the halfway point of their year, just as they are now in 2014.

Fire up whatever obsolete iPhone device you were using a short 12 months ago and search for Floyd's numbers (I now realize time travel was completely unnecessary). You’ll see that in only his second season—and his first as a starting, consistently used option—Floyd is chugging toward his first 1,000-plus yard year. He would later finish a tick over that mark at 1,041 yards.

Jump back into the time vessel and be sure the knob is turned to today’s date. Compare Floyd’s totals a year ago to the pace he's set now. He’s vanishe and perhaps lost in a time vortex of some kind.

Michael Floyd's fall
Floyd's 2013 totals651,041107
Floyd's 2014 pace4677890
Source: NFL.com

Paces can change, because that’s what they do. Floyd could get hot suddenly and post a few games with over 100 yards and all will be right with the universe again. But a sample size of half a season is significant, as are the projected numbers generated.

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Floyd already had a sizzling stretch, and it happened immediately. Over the first three weeks of this season, he caught 11 passes for 252 receiving yards. In the five games since he’s totaled 137 yards. That includes only seven yards in Week 5 and being entirely blanked in Week 8.

Yet the Cardinals are still leading the NFC West. They still have the best record in the entire league with only one loss, and at 250.1 yards per game they’ve still managed to have a solidly mid-pack passing offense (13th), even with the backup quarterback starting three games and Floyd’s disappearance.

Which all leads to a simple question: how?

We can start to answer the great riddle of Floyd’s 2014 booming then mostly busting by looking at how he’s used. Or rather, how he’s not used.

Floyd’s production and his four games with fewer than 40 yards is even more difficult to fathom when looking at his snap count. He’s been on the field for 86.7 percent of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps, slightly more than last year’s 85.8 percent.

That overall snap count hasn’t taken a tumble along with his recent production. In fact, the mystery around Floyd’s disappearance gets especially spooky when we highlight two games.

Plenty of playing time with little production
Week% of offensive snapsReceptionsYards
Source: Pro Football Focus

The Cardinals ran 137 plays in those games combined, and Floyd watched from the sideline for only seven of them. Against the Oakland Raiders in Week 7, he was targeted three times, which started a two-week screaming nosedive. The following game against the Philadelphia Eagles he was targeted four times and didn’t catch any of those balls.

As Mike Clay from Pro Football Focus observed, Floyd’s apparent march to the basement of the Cardinals’ depth chart began directly after their Week 4 bye.

Mike Clay @MikeClayNFL

Has anyone asked Bruce Arians why Michael Floyd is fifth in line for targets since their Week 4 bye? #cardinals

Floyd has been targeted 23 times since Week 5. It’s fine and quite understandable if his looks are behind those given to fellow wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (32 targets since Week 5). His speed may be declining with age, but Fitzgerald's bulldozing physicality makes him ideal as a possession receiver.

Floyd is also behind wide receiver John Brown in targets during that span (29 since Week 5). That’s a little more alarming and puts his role in the increasingly murky middle.

Fitzgerald is handling most of the shorter throws while being asked to bruise defenders and churn out yards after the catch. And Brown has the hot wheels as the deep speedster, with six of his 24 receptions coming on balls that traveled 20 yards or more through the air, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Where does Floyd stand among the mouths quarterback Carson Palmer has to feed? Somewhere behind John Carlson, the abandoned tight end, who’s played only 55.8 percent of Arizona’s offensive snaps and has still been targeted 30 times since Week 5.

Which brings us to a possible answer for Floyd’s deep hibernation and recent descent into nothingness. He’s going through an identity crisis in the Cardinals offense.

With Fitzgerald settling into a role that offers easier connections on shorter routes and Brown a blazing vertical streak, Floyd has been left to lean on what separates him from those two. And that’s being a sure-handed pass-catcher with plenty of athleticism to rise for difficult grabs in traffic.

He’s made a number of incredible leaping snatches and will surely keep adding to that highlight reel. But having the talent to make difficult catches doesn’t mean those low-percentage throws will more often result in completions. They’re difficult catches for a reason.

If a receiver is primarily seeing balls that require jumping and twisting grabs, his production will inevitably sputter. Or flatline, as it did for Floyd in Week 8.

Of his four targets in that game, three came in the first half, and they all were all sailing deep throws.

Like this one when he was asked to make a catch amid a sea of hands

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

That arcing heave from Palmer traveled about 35 yards through the air. Floyd was covered tightly by a cornerback with the safety about a half-step behind. The result was Floyd contorting and elevating to meet the throw at its highest point, and then the ball hit his chest at the same time as a set of hands.

Yet he still almost made the catch.

I know, almost only counts in horseshoes and for store-bought peanut butter cookies. But when “almost” is what you as a receiver are mostly seeing on exceedingly difficult catch attempts, production that even approaches consistency is tough sledding.

He almost made this catch too…

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

That was a diving and then crumbling attempt to haul in a ball that journeyed 32 yards from Palmer’s arm to where Floyd greeted it. It was definitely a catchable ball and a fine throw but also another example of the sprawling acrobatics needed by Floyd on many of his recent targets.

The difference between “almost” and a spectacular play is an inch, a fingertip or a jump that isn’t timed quite right. There’s very little margin for error with plays of that nature, and by extension wide receivers who are expected to convert those "almosts" into receptions have little wiggle room.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians spoke bluntly about that reality after Floyd’s two deep misses in Week 8, saying greatness leads to even greater expectations.

“When you make great catches you set a standard,” he told Cardinals.com. “And that’s why everybody expects, as I do, for him to come down with those balls.”

Increased usage and easier targets will help Floyd get into a rhythm and meet that standard when the difficulty level rises. His struggles of late show just how deep the Cardinals are offensively. They’ve lost only one game, even though he hasn’t topped 50 receiving yards since Week 3.

So they’ll march on with running back Andre Ellington averaging 109 yards from scrimmage per game and old man Fitzgerald totaling 230 receiving yards over the past two weeks. And eventually (hopefully?) the 2013 version of Michael Floyd will return.

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