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2014 Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians' 'six-gun' offense among NFL's best

"We have six home runs on the play sheet every week, and we're not leaving any bullets unused."

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


That's the number of quarterbacks through Week 11 of the 2014 season who have attempted at least 25 passes of 20 yards or more without throwing a single interception.

Player Team Att Comp Comp % Yards TD INT Rate
Aaron Rodgers GB 30 16 53.33% 693 9 0 138.19
Peyton Manning DEN 41 20 48.78% 745 8 0 134.40
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 57 23 40.35% 769 8 0 127.38

When Bruce Arians arrived in Arizona following the 2012 season, he mentioned at his introductory press conference his offense has six "home runs" on each game's play sheet. That is, six plays designed to stretch the field vertically in hopes of scoring a touchdown.

Through 10 games this season, the Arizona Cardinals have attempted 60 deep passes. In case you failed your first-grade math class, 60 deep shots in 10 games averages out to six per game. Coincidence?

Not even close.

The Cardinals' passing attack has been largely unremarkable this season; it's not terrible, but neither is it elite. The short and intermediate passing attack is the reason for that. It's not the deep attack, because Arizona's vertical game has been wildly successful when compared to others around the league.

You're wondering why the chart above shows three quarterbacks when the stat mentions five. Here are the other two:

Player Team Att Comp Comp % Yards TD INT Rate
Drew Stanton ARI 28 10 35.71% 325 4 0 119.79
Carson Palmer ARI 31 11 35.48% 371 3 0 113.78
Total 59 21 35.59 696 7 0 120.44

That's right: Two of the five quarterbacks who have attempted at least 25 deep shots this season and have yet to throw an interception on said deep shots play for Arians' Cardinals. The other three are all future Hall of Famers with four Super Bowl rings and nearly 1,000 career touchdown passes between them.

A lot goes into having a successful vertical attack. It's not just a matter of the quarterback getting the ball to the receiver. Ball placement is important, obviously, but how the receiver runs his route is important, as is the protection in front of the quarterback.

That might be the biggest factor this season -- Arizona's offensive line has done a superb job protecting Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Of the 16 sacks Cardinals quarterbacks have taken this season, Pro Football Focus pinned eight on the line, tying the unit for the eighth-fewest sacks allowed.

When given time to throw this season, the quarterbacks have made defenses pay -- especially Stanton, who has a 97.5 passer rating on dropbacks taking at least 2.6 seconds from the time of the snap to the time he releases the ball (compare that to a 63.3 rating on dropbacks taking 2.5 seconds or fewer).

Now you're wondering how Arizona's receivers have fared in the deep-passing game. Here is a breakdown of each receiver's statistics on deep targets so far this season:

Player Targets Receptions Drops Yards TD Target %
Michael Floyd 21 7 2 268 3 38.9%
Ted Ginn 5 2 0 52 0 35.7%
John Brown 18 7 0 235 4 30.0%
Jaron Brown 2 0 0 0 0 16.7%
Larry Fitzgerald 9 4 0 109 0 13.8%

The thing that should jump off the page at you are the stats of Michael Floyd and rookie John Brown. Essentially, they are the Cardinals' deep passing attack this season, having combined to catch 14 of 39 targets (35.9 percent) for 503 yards and all seven of Arizona's deep touchdowns.

That is in no way surprising.

Brown is fifth in the NFL with four touchdowns on deep passes, according to PFF. The only time he scored on a ball that didn't travel 20-plus yards in the air came in his first-ever professional game -- the fourth-quarter, game-winning screen pass from Palmer, which Kyle Odegard of the official team site broke down perfectly.

In order for the Cardinals to finish the 2014 season strong, a couple of things must happen.

Firstly, the defense must continue its dominance. Without Todd Bowles' top-notch blitz schemes and the "No Fly Zone" secondary, the team likely would not be sitting comfortably atop the NFC West with a three-game cushion.

Secondly, Stanton must continue to throw deep. It appears at times as though he forces the issue in lieu of an easy completion to an underneath receiver -- he leads the NFL, throwing 22.4 percent of his passes beyond 20 yards downfield. But that could eventually lead to a big play that changes a game in favor of the Cardinals.

Throwing deep just to fill a quota is not how Stanton does business. He is a smart quarterback. Though he is not quite as accurate as Palmer is in the short and intermediate game, he is good at throwing the home run ball -- it's showed this season.

For Stanton, throwing deep more often makes some sense, especially considering the rate at which Brown gets behind defenses.

Statistics in tables are courtesy of Pro Football Focus