NFL offseason: How will the Cardinals get Larry Fitzgerald the ball?

Christian Petersen

Just more proof of how dangerous Larry Fitzgerald can be with a competent set of teammates.

With an offensive line and a quarterback, the Arizona Cardinals could be back to their winning ways.

This is a phrase we hear floating around all the time. And it's not to say that it isn't true, it's just a bit more difficult to fix these problems than people tend to think. One thing is for sure, though. If and when these problems do get corrected, one guy is going to be very happy: Larry Fitzgerald.

In a recent article from Pro Football Focus, Fitzgerald is classified as a receiver that is either "boom or bust" depending on the team around him. And lately, it has been a lot more bust than boom. He caught just 71 balls for 798 yards and four touchdowns last year with Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer throwing him the ball.

So what happened if Fitz actually had a decent quarterback or got to work with Kolb (the best quarterback of the bunch) for an entire season? PFF suggests that he would be quite good.

With Kolb throwing him passes, Fitzgerald was a far more productive receiver. In the five games that Kolb started, Fitzgerald registered 54.7 fantasy points versus 49.1 scored during the other 11 games. He was the 14th highest scoring fantasy wideout in those games and the 59th when targeted by the Clown Car (CC) full of Skeltons and Lindleys. With Kolb he had a 62% Percentage Caught (% Ct), which is the percentage of his targets that became receptions, and a 41 %Ct with the CC throwing him the ball.

He was the sixth most targeted wideout when Kolb started, and 14th when he did not. Fitzgerald came in 32nd in Fantasy Points Per Snap (PPSnap) with Kolb (0.17) and 91st when the circus was in town (0.07). Even back in 2011, when Kolb started, Fitzgerald had a 17.3 yards per catch average (11.2 in '12) and a nearly 60 %Ct (53.0 overall). You get the picture.

By now you are probably asking yourself how Kolb is supposed to get Fitz the ball when he can't even get the time behind his offensive line to do that. Kolb was sacked in an average of 2.2 seconds on his dropbacks, good for the worst time in the league out of 38 quarterbacks who qualify. PFF does mention that the line improved dramatically after the bye week, but still thinks they need to take a lineman high in this draft.

So with a quarterback potentially in place and the offensive line improved, how are the Cardinals going to actually get Fitzgerald the ball? That is something Ken Whisenhunt and former offensive coordinator Mike Miller struggled in doing. We would often seen Fitzgerald in motion or in a bunch formation, but rarely did it result in him making a big play. It will be the job of new head coach Bruce Arians to fix that.

Last year in Indianapolis, Arians was able to get star receiver Reggie Wayne the ball plenty. PFF states that while he was a slot receiver only 12.6% of the time in 2011, that number increased to 61.2% in 2012. Could we perhaps see Fitzgerald working out of the slot more often as Wayne did in Indy? Fitzgerald only lined up in the slot 18.8% of the time last year, according to PFF. His numbers have shown to be improved when working out of the slot, so I think it is a definite possibility.

Obviously, there are a lot of factors at play here. The Cardinals still have much work to do in terms of upgrading their offense from a talent standpoint. But if they can do that, and that's a big IF, they will have the perfect weapon already in place to help them succeed.

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