The Arizona Cardinals have landed one of the best run blocking guards in the NFL in signing Mike Iupati to a five-year contract. However, he has been criticized for his pass protection. Some, included myself, have looked at his grades and have noticed the difference there is between when he was protecting Colin Kaepernick and when he had Alex Smith behind him at quarterback.
Iupati suggested something different. It was his health, at least in 2014.
In his introductory press conference for the team, he mentioned he broke his foot/ankle.
In a radio interview right after the introduction, appearing on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he talked about it some more.
He did not break his foot in 2014. He was recovering from a broken foot.
When asked about pass protection, Iupati said, "just look at me when I'm healthy."
"I broke my foot in the NFC Championship Game (the 2013 season) and it (was) my left leg that I kick with," he explained.
"I think (it impacted me) a lot because I missed OTAs and (then I was) trying to fight through injury in training camp," he said. "Then you go straight to the season and everything happened fast."
He never appeared on the injury report for his foot injury, but he suggests that he is now completely healthy and felt the effects of the injury most of the 2014 season.
Pro Football Focus credited Iupati for giving up seven sacks and 29 other pressures. He was a net -7.5 on the season in pass protection, but his worst grades came early in the season. He received positive grades in four of the final six games of the season. He had negative grades in four of the first five games.
Despite the injury he said he suffered from, he did note it is a little different blocking for a scrambling as opposed to a guy like Carson Palmer, who stays in the pocket.
"The biggest difference is you know where the quarterback is going to be all the time," he said. "You've just got to keep your defender either on the line of scrimmage or he doesn't go to try to sack the quarterback."
Iupati did grade out much better with Alex Smith. In 2010, Iupati's pass blocking grade was -1.5 on the season, allowing two sacks and 27 pressures. In 2011, his grade was -0.1, allowing four sacks and 19 pressures. In 2012, while Smith was the starter, he was a +2.5, allowing only one sack and eight pressures through 10 weeks.
With Kaepernick, from that week on, Iupati was graded -5.9, allowing two more sacks and 19 pressures. In 2013, he was -7.9 and gave up four sacks and 23 pressures. In 2014, he graded a -7.5, allowing the seven sacks and 27 pressures.
Now, in comparison, Ted Larsen, who started 14 games at left guard for the Cardinals in 2014, graded out in pass protection at -14.9, giving up four sacks and 32 pressures.
Regardless the reason for Iupati's struggles, he is an improvement. It will help having Palmer at QB. It will help that his foot should be better. But he is better than anyone the Cardinals had before and he is an elite run blocker, so the team will gladly take the "struggles" he had in pass protection if that also means a huge improvement in opening holes in the running game.