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Carson Palmer 2013: The good, the bad and the ugly by Pro Football Focus

Steve Palazzolo has broken down every quarterback stat imaginable, and we have some new insight into what Carson Palmer did in 2013.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jess Root spent several weeks covering Carson Palmer's ranking among his fellow quarterbacks that Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo put out over the last couple months. Now that Palazzolo is finished, he has tied it up in a  neat little bow for all of us to enjoy.

That's where we can come in, look at Palmer's numbers and figure out where he was good, where he was bad and where he was ugly in 2013 and then use those numbers as a base to go for 2014 evaluations of Palmer.

Here are the numbers, and my thoughts on each one.

The Good

•"Sixth-highest grade from a clean pocket (+22.7)"

Maybe the least shocking revelation to Arizona Cardinals fans was when Palmer had time to stand in the pocket and make his reads, he was really, really good.

Palmer was not pressured on 59.7 percent of his throws in 2013, five percent less than the NFL average, but his time to throw (TTT) was an astoundingly low 2.17 seconds.

He was most effective with the ball coming out quick from a clean pocket on short routes that let the athletes make a play with the ball in their hand -- his average depth of target was only 8.9 yards on non-pressured passes.

Palmer's numbers were ridiculously good without pressure: 261-of-367 (71.1%) for 3,125 yards, 21 TD and seven INTs for a 107.95 passer rating.

That has to continue in 2014, and even though five percent more unpressured doesn't equal a ton more on numbers that matter (only one more TD), it could mean more completions and more opportunities for points, which wasn't great in 2013.

• "Graded at +5.3 on third downs, including +4.6 on 3rd-and-long"

Picking up third downs and keeping the opposing defense on the field is such an important piece to any successfully run offense.

While it doesn't cover whether or not third downs were converted, it is a good sign that he is so effective.  Now if the Cardinals can figure out how to lower the percentage of plays they have in 3rd-and-long situations -- 10.2 percent (NFL average 9.4 percent) -- and increase the number of 3rd-and-short plays -- 2.4 percent (NFL average 3.1 percent).

• "Among the league’s best on out routes (+6.6), and ranked fifth with a +8.2 grade on post routes"

These routes are important to Arians flood game passing attack, so it's not shocking that Palmer was productive in throwing them.

• "Threw well outside the numbers to the left (+5.5)"

This was interesting because as I dove deeper into these numbers, only 58 of Palmer's completions came in this vicinity of the field, 22 of which were to receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd (11 apiece, interestingly enough), so that means the other 36 were spread out among the rest of the team.

Five each to running back Andre Ellington and tight end Rob Housler as well as four combined catches from tight ends Jake Ballard and the departed-to-the-Cleveland Browns Jim Dray. I stopped looking after that because it led to the next section.

• "Graded at +5.5 on passes to tight ends, including a +5.2 grade to inline tight ends"

As "bad" as the tight end position was for the Cardinals, Palmer sure got a lot out of the group and was effective when his tight ends played from a traditional position.

Palmer completed 79% of his passes to inline tight ends: 49 completions for 517 yards and 3TDs.

These were the checkdown guys as the TTT for Palmer was 2.46 and the time to pressure (TTP) was 2.40 seconds, meaning Palmer had a comfort with these guys and was making plays despite their limited abilities.

• "Graded at +4.3 on passes in the 2.1-to-2.5-second range"

Again, getting the ball out quickly was what made Palmer successful in 2013, where 29.1 percent of his passes came in this time range. Throw in the fact that 31.6 percent of Palmer's throws came within two seconds or less and you have over 60 percent of Palmer's passes being thrown within 2.5 seconds of the snap, or 10 percent more than the NFL average.

• "Showed well on 4-to-6-yard drop-backs (+3.4)"

Really coincides with getting the ball out in a hurry, so not shocking.

• "Fared well when blitzed (+7.2)"

Palmer was blitzed just below the league average, on only 29.6% of his dropbacks and was sacked only 14 times in those instances, which isn't bad when you consider how bad the Cardinals offensive line was.

It makes sense, because the Cardinals were terrible against the traditional pass rush -- four rushers. But that will be looked at later.

When Palmer knew a blitz was coming, he got the ball out in only 2.28 seconds, meaning he was able to identify his hot read and get the ball out, but that is only part of story.

The Bad

There will be a group of posts here, because they all fit into the same category, which is simply the longer Palmer had to hold the ball the worse he became.

Also, even if some of the numbers could be considered ugly, Palmer gets a one-year pass based on how bad the offensive line was last season.

• "Graded at -1.7 on 7-to-8-yard drop-backs"
• "Graded at -3.4 on passes in the 2.6-to-3.0-second range"
• "Overall, graded at -4.3 against a traditional rush"

We see that when needing to get into deeper drops and wait for routes to develop, Palmer was very ineffective.  A lot of this can be attributed to the offensive line, and maybe it should, but if these numbers don't improve in 2014, then we will know more.

The biggest problem was not getting the ball out against traditional rushes -- something that has to be improved in 2014.

• "Graded at -2.1 on second downs"

While we discussed how important it was for Palmer to be good on third down, we see part of the reason he needed to be so good on third downs was because he really wasn't good on second downs.

The question becomes, is that attributed to having no running game to take some of the pressure off of him, or no threat of a running game?

On play-action passes Palmer was -1.3, and that is with a +1.5 play-action grade on first downs.

The Cardinals' lack of a running threat meant the only time teams actually took play-action seriously was on first down because the Cardinals running game was so poor in 2013.

The Ugly

• "Struggled on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air (-10.5), including a -7.0 grade in the 21-to-30-yard range and a -4.2 grade in the 31-40-yard range"

A lot of people will put this on the offensive line, the receivers, etc., but the reality is head coach Bruce Arians and Palmer (audibles at the line) are calling the plays and chose to run more deep plays than the NFL average despite having turnstiles as pass-blockers. The Cardinals threw 20-plus yards in the air on 13.7% of passes, where they scored the -10.5, a percentage-point higher than the rest of the league.

I understand wanting to get the ball deep, but if you do not have the personnel to do so, then don't blame the personnel.

• "Ranked last with a -8.7 grade on go routes"

Another interesting stat to watch in 2014 is whether having the "speed receiver" this season makes a huge difference in this grade.  Palmer struggled getting the ball out there and letting his receivers run under it and make plays in 2013; will having different speed receivers on the outside make a difference?

• "League’s lowest grade when pressured (-19.8), including a -14.0 grade when pressured from a traditional rush"

While we praised Palmer earlier for being so effective against the blitz, the caveat is most of that work came when he was getting the ball out before pressure.

Pressure can be a bit ambiguous, but the graders at PFF are using the same criteria for each quarterback, so it should be close. And in that we can see Palmer is not nearly as effective when facing any type of pressure.

He was pressured nearly five percent more than the NFL average, and against traditional pass rush he was pressured 4.5 percent more than the NFL average. That may not change a ton this year.

With the way teams are stocking pass rushers in the NFC West, Arizona's opposition will have plenty of weapons to throw at the revamped offensive line.

Throw in the Broncos, the potential of the Raiders, as well as the Lions and Chiefs, and 10 games this year could present big issues being able to stop pressure without blitzing. If opponents are able to get pressure while blitzing, Palmer was a -5.9 in 2013 -- still not great.


• "Led the league with 42.4% of drop-backs coming from under center"

You mean Arians likes a traditional offense? Shocking.

• "Threw 60.1% of passes in between the numbers; fifth-highest in the league"

This was actually surprising to me until I sat down and thought about it. The Cardinals' best weapons in 2013 were big-bodied, physical receiving threats, so why not take advantage and get them the ball in traffic? Also, Palmer threw 14 of his interceptions toward the middle of the field.

While that seems like a lot, his 14 picks account for only 4.3% of his total passes over the middle, so it's not that bad.

• "Faced pressure 40.3% of the time; eighth-highest in the league"
• "Faced pressure that came in less than two seconds on 15.0% of drop-backs; highest in the league"
• "Second-lowest percentage of drop-backs that lasted at least 3.6 seconds (8.1%)"

Again, the offensive line was a problem in 2013.

• "Led the league with 3.9% of drop-backs in the 1-to-3-yard range"

Not shocking, either, and, if Arians had to do the first seven games over, I would venture a guess this number would be higher.

• "Only used play-action 15.4% of the time; ninth-lowest in the league"

Well, when your running game doesn't scare anyone, this isn't shocking. It really would just waste time getting to your spot to get the ball out.

• "Only 0.6% of attempts were running back screens; lowest in the league"

This was shocking to me, because you have Andre Ellington, and he is a weapon. USE HIM.  I hope this number changes in 2014.

• "Threw the highest percentage of post routes (11.5%)"

Again, this is a staple in the Arians offense, so not surprising. But this was also the route Palmer was most successful with, so not surprising they would throw it so often.

• "Faced five or more defensive backs only 62.6% of his drop-backs; below the league average of 70.0%"

There are a couple interpretations here:

1. Teams didn't fear the Cardinals receivers, so they just played in their normal defense.

2. The Cardinals threw the ball out of running personnel so much that other teams' base defenses were on the field most often.


Overall, that's a lot of great information from Steve Palazzolo and paints a good picture of what and who Palmer is as a quarterback.

There were not a whole lot of surprises. Palmer is a classic pocket passer who is best when he can stand on his spot and get the ball out.  He favors throwing over the middle of the field, utilizing his big-bodied receivers to make plays for him.

Palmer is excellent at identifying the blitz and getting rid of the ball. But when pressure comes, he was not very good.

It fits Palmer's career fairly well, and now it is on him to improve when pressure comes. It could also be on Arians to cut down on the deeper drops and longer developing routes and use the personnel he has.

We shall see.