The Arizona Cardinals narrowly escaped their Week 8 game with a win against the Philadelphia Eagles, a 24-20 thriller that included some very good and some very bad play from head coach Bruce Arians' team.
Quarterback Carson Palmer completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in a game for the first time in nearly three calendar years, finishing 20-of-42 passing (47.6 percent) for 329 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 90.3 passer rating. He was under pressure more than you want your 34-year-old signal-caller who is fresh off a shoulder injury to be.
This breakdown is of his first throw of the game. As with 13 other dropbacks against the Eagles, Palmer was pressured on this play -- first by Pro Bowl outside linebacker Trent Cole before being hammered by former first-round pick, defensive end Fletcher Cox, as he released the ball.
Let's see how this play -- arguably Palmer's best of the 2014 season -- went down.
We begin by showing the route combination being run by the Cardinals to the right of Palmer. Wideouts Michael Floyd (fronting the trips formation) and Larry Fitzgerald (bottom of the trips) will run a go- and a whip-route, respectively. Rookie receiver John Brown (top of the trips) will run a 10-yard out.
This play did not matter to the final score. It's Arizona's first drive of the game, which ended in a Drew Butler punt (in lieu of a long field goal attempt from Chandler Catanzaro, mind you). But it displayed that Palmer is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league at stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure while being aware of where his receivers are, even when he has to drop his eyes momentarily.
We begin by highlighting Palmer, Cole and Cox. It's an empty shotgun set; as noted above, the Cardinals have trips to the bottom of the formation, while receiver Ted Ginn (top, white cleats) and running back Andre Ellington are the duo to the top.
At the top of Palmer's dropback, you can see Cole has already beaten left tackle Jared Veldheer around the edge with a speed rush. Don't be alarmed that Veldheer was beaten on this play, because Cole has made two Pro Bowls and has 82.5 career sacks using mainly this exact speed rush.
However, Veldheer recovered nicely, as you are about to see, getting just enough of Cole as he reached Palmer to take him out of the play.
Veldheer's last-ditch effort to keep his quarterback upright was so effective that all Cole could do before falling to the University of Phoenix Stadium turf is smack Palmer on the back of the helmet. This is the true beginning of arguably Palmer's best play of the season. (You can see Cox in the middle of a delayed stunt with Philly's other defensive end, Vinny Curry.)
Palmer then climbs the ladder directly into Cox's path. In this frame, you can see Palmer has turned his focus toward the 298-pound lineman. He must act quickly if he wants to get off a pass before being blasted by the hulking mass of humanity in front of him.
Three things from the screen shot below. One: As Palmer rears back to throw, Cox is directly in his face. He is no more than two feet from Palmer and closing quickly. Two: Palmer's chest is directly facing his target, Brown. This raises the difficulty level of the throw immensely. And three: Palmer is throwing off the wrong foot.
Nothing about Palmer's mechanics suggest the resulting throw should land anywhere near his intended receiver, let alone in the spot it ended up. I compared this throwing motion to that of the lead character from the classic baseball movie, The Sandlot:
This is Carson Palmer on his first throw tbh: pic.twitter.com/rZIX60k9Or— Shaun Church (@NFLChurch) October 29, 2014
The two are nearly identical, really.
Anyway, we see below where the ball ended up. This throw to Brown would be considered a good one had Palmer completed it from a clean pocket with the perfect mechanics he is known for. But after watching him step up and contort his body to deliver this dime while absorbing a crushing blow from Cox, you can understand how one could claim this to be the quarterback's best throw of the season.
And finally, the GIF of this thing of beauty:
Plays like this from Palmer are a bonus for Arians and the Cardinals. He has never been considered "mobile" by definition, but Fox color commentator Ronde Barber said it best following the play:
This is something that Carson Palmer does really, really well -- probably better than any quarterback in the league. It's staying in the pocket [as] it starts to collapse around him -- it's a five-man pressure. He'll step up and take the time to find a guy coming out [of his break] late.
That was a heck of a completion to John Brown.
It was, indeed, a heck of a completion. The entire play was fantastic on Palmer's part.
The Cardinals are 6-1, they have a two-game lead on both the 49ers and Seahawks in the NFC West and they currently sit as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. If Palmer keeps making plays like this one on Sundays, things could shape up very nicely for the franchise this season.