Hello ROTB. I just want to take this opportunity to talk about what our expectations should be for this team at this point in the season, and how we compare to last year's Cardinals team. If you are anything like me, you've waited patiently as the new Cardinals have started to learn to play together as a unit. You've withheld judgement of this work in progress, and are happy to see the team holding serve at 2-2, 1/4 of the way through this young season. If you are not like me and think Palmer sucks, and Arians sucks, and Bowles sucks, and Mendenhall sucks (or a combination of those), let me take this opportunity to tell you why you are WRONG and you should FEEL BAD about it.
1. Palmer. Last year Palmer threw for 4000 yards, and didn't have Fitz. So logically, he should throw for 10K yards and 152 TDs this year, right? Let's temper expectations a bit. Palmer is a smart, accurate QB- and I think there is little doubt he's the best we've seen here since Warner. The last couple guys had tremendous flaws to their game- I don't think Palmer does. However, he is still learning a new system, as are his receivers and his offensive line. It takes time for all these things to come together. The third down efficiency has been TERRIBLE the last few games. However, this is not all on Palmer- there have been dropped balls, and more importantly there has been tremendous pressure with only 3-4 rushers so far.
That's a key problem for this new offense. Let's talk about what you expect your good/great QB to do on a passing play: A- read the defensive scheme, read the blitz and change the play accordingly (this was Kolb's biggest fault, IMHO, besides being made of kindling, as well as a problem for most of our previous QBs); B: Drop back and INTO the pocket (again, Kolb liability); Find the open receiver without staring him down (Skelton/Leinart/DA/Lindley); C: make a QUICK decision (DA, Kolb again); D: Deliver an accurate pass (Skelton/Lindley). I think Palmer does ALL of those things better than ALL of the other QB's we've had here post-Warner.
The crux of the problem has been that the Oline has been giving up significant pressure without having to call a bliz- with speed rushers burning both the LG and RG repeatedly. Palmer's biggest issue in many of these situations is that he can't Dx the problem pre-snap, and has been throwing the ball when the receivers aren't ready or the routes not developed to avoid the sack/hit (often resulting in INTs). This is why looking at sacks and hits is VERY misleading- Palmer is better than Kolb at getting rid of the football with pressure in his face- so you can't just say the line is better this season than last by looking at those 2 stats. Was he wrong to throw those 2 picks in the red zone last week instead of taking a sack? Yes. One was a great defensive play on a slightly underthrown ball (which would have been a TD) the other was a direct result of the pressure. I will say this- the pressure does seem to affect his throws- he has been throwing off his back foot more and more, leading to underthrown balls (I can think of 2 others of his INTs that were because of this). Hopefully, if the line improves and gives him a little more time these types of errors will lessen.
I will say this and bold it- THIS IS NOT BASEBALL- stats are NOT a good way to assess quality playing in this game. In some situations it can be a good correlate of success, but much of the time there are far too many confounding variables to take anything significant from them. You have to watch the plays, and see if the player made the right decision, or was in the right position, or made or didn't make that block.
Let's not pull too many punches here- so far the offense, led by Palmer, has been mediocre (which is still better than last season). But there have been flashes of brilliance. Week 1 we had 7 scoring drives. The offense worked well in the 2nd half vs. DET. It also worked well in the 4th quarter last Sunday. Hopefully, with time the the players learn to play better with each other and we gain more consistency.
2. The RUN game. No excusing Mendenhall's 2 fumbles, but outside of last week vs TB, Mendenhall has been an underutilized BEAST. I give him a pass for a down week. I wouldn't mind seeing Williams in there some, or traded. Maybe the coaches feel Mendenhall will break down, and Williams will be a fresh set of legs later in the season? The bottom line is that the Run game has not been productive because it hasn't been used enough. This has lead our offense to be one-dimensional and easy to defend. I think as the season goes on, we will become MORE balanced not less, and I see improvement in our run game. TB shut us down. It doesn't mean everyone else will too. Just need to keep on truckin'.
3. Arians and the playcalling. Let's not pull punches here either- Arians/OC has been pretty bad at playcalling. Particularly in the Saints game. Running for 4+ yards/carry... so we abandon it? with the game tied 7-7? I think this is growing plains for a new coach and new system. Although we didn't run the ball effectively vs TB, you can tell by the number of attempts that Arians and the coaching staff are LEARNING from their mistakes and trying to add balance. I don't know why a HC in the NFL needs to learn this lesson, but he clearly did- running the ball is essential in this game, and if you want to have a successful pass game you need to make the defense respect the run.
4. Bowles and the defense. No, He's not Horton, and No, our defense is clearly worse than last season. But just like the offense, there is a learning curve and we can already see the improvements over the last 4 games. Last season we started 4-0, but you'd be kidding yourself if you think it had much to do with much other than our dominant defense. We were not just dominant, we caused havoc and forced many TO's. Through 4 games last year or defense caused 10 turnovers (7 this year). We had caused 16 sacks and many, many hurries (this year just 7 sacks). This year we haven't been able to create any pressure on the opposing QBs with consistency or urgency. Even our blitzes have been getting picked up. With Washington coming back this week, and our defense starting to step it up and create TOs, our whole team will be more dynamic and effective. As the TO margin starts to even out or goes in our favor, we will see more points on the board and better outcomes.
So in the end, we are at 2-2. I think our team will improve as it gels. Our offense hasn't produced a lot of points but it can move the ball. I don't think the problems are insurmountable- the offense will click, and when it does- watch out. I always thought we'd start off slow because of all the new elements, but by mid season be in full-stride. In all, I can't say I expected to be better than 2-2 at this point, so I am pleased with out progress and ability to win one on the road.