Last season, the ability to spread the ball around through the air was a big part of the Cardinals 13-3 record and run into the playoffs. The ageless Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown both topped 1,000 yards and even though Michael Floyd just missed that mark, he still led the team with more than 16 yards per reception. This season, as the team has stumbled to a 2-3 mark, the diversity is missing.
In the Cardinals 33-21 win over the 49ers, Fitzgerald caught six passes for 81 yards and two scores, but the other receivers didn’t follow suit. In fact, until the last play of the first quarter, Fitzgerald was the only Cardinals receiver with a catch. Brown only caught one pass for 11 yards, marking the third time in five games he recorded just one catch. On top of that, Floyd, with just 12 catches for 170 yards (including being held without a catch for the first time in over a year in their win over San Francisco) is on pace for the least productive season of his five-year career. Head Coach Bruce Arians believes Floyd is pressing too much in a contract year, trying to prove he deserves top receiver money.
When diagnosing the issues that are impacting their aerial attack, the first thing that jumps out is the lack of cohesion between Carson Palmer and his receivers. At least two of his five interceptions can be attributed to this. Once when Brown misinterpreted a hand signal and ran the wrong route and another when Palmer expected Floyd to cut in front of a defensive back and he went behind him instead, it was an easy pick. But the lack of cohesion isn’t the only problem.
Palmer is also just plain struggling. Last season, he was at his best in the fourth quarter, completing 64 percent of his passes, averaging more than eight yards per completion and throwing eight touchdowns to just one interception. This season, his completion percentage has dropped to 61 percent, his average per completion is down by a yard and he’s thrown four interceptions to just one touchdown.
Some are questioning his arm strength, saying his throws lack past velocity, but he has also been under duress far too often. You wouldn’t expect arm strength to be an issue from a QB who was also an outstanding pitcher in his earlier days, and was even drafted by the Dodgers while a dual sport athlete at USC.
Last season, the Cardinals set several team offensive records including total net yards and touchdown passes. A big reason for that was a successful downfield passing game, something that opposing defenses have taken away this year. Defenses are using six and seven defensive backs and even though Palmer and Drew Stanton are hitting almost sixty percent of their passes against these looks, they have thrown three interceptions and no touchdowns.
All of this has led to the Cardinals searching for an identity on offense. The play calling has become predictable, as the intermediate passing game has been scrapped in favor of more deep shots and screens. As would be expected, the numbers aren’t good. The Cardinals are the only team in the NFL yet to score in the first quarter and they are last in completion percentage.
While injuries are part of the game, cohesion and play calling can be corrected. One thing is for sure, the Cardinals need to find answers quickly if they want to climb out of the 2-3 hole they are in and return to the playoffs.