TEMPE, Ariz. – All you really needed to know about the Cardinals’ three consecutive playoff-less seasons is summarized by the following seven names: Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton, Rich Bartel, Kevin Kolb and Brian Hoyer.
They were hardly the magnificent seven. Four are out of the NFL, Kolb may be soon given his concussion history, Anderson is a backup in Carolina and Hoyer is the third-string QB in Cleveland.
Mismanagement and miscalculation at the QB position were major factors in the decision to fire former coach Ken Whisenhunt and hire Bruce Arians. Not too many locals will argue with the notion that Carson Palmer is a significant upgrade over those seven names. But will it be enough for a team that just lost its highly touted rookie guard and hasn’t produced a running game that’s finished higher than 22nd in the NFL since 2002?
Backups: Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley
What does Palmer have left in the tank? Some have argued that after 10 NFL seasons, Palmer, 33, has lost a little bit of arm strength, which could be a problem in Arians’ vertical passing game. But it hasn’t been noticeable thus far in the preseason, and it should be noted that a lot of those checkdown routes he threw last season in Oakland – with tight end Brandon Myers (79 receptions, 806 yards) a major beneficiary – may have been due to the fact that the Raiders’ offensive line was horrible. Palmer has experience that none of the previously mentioned seven QBs had. More importantly, he’s had success that none of those other players have had, winning the Heisman Trophy at USC, leading the Bengals to their first playoff berth in 15 years and somehow throwing for 4,018 yards (10th in the NFL) and 22 TDs behind the aforementioned Raiders offensive line – and without Larry Fitzgerald running routes.
What about those 50 interceptions the past three seasons? The picks are definitely a concern, but given the fact that two of the three teams he played for went 4-12, it’s not like there was a lot of talent around him or a lot of leads to play with. Of greater concern in this area is the protection Palmer will get this season with left guard Jonathan Cooper out for the season, three starters back from a line that allowed 54 sacks two seasons ago and two back from a line that allowed an NFL-high 58 sacks last season. Quarterbacks with less time make more mistakes.
Is Stanton a viable backup? It’s hard to say since he’s thrown a grand total of 187 passes in his five-year career (and none the past two seasons), completing 104 of them (55.6 percent) with five TDs and nine interceptions. The plus is that he knows Arian’s system, having played for him in Indianapolis last season. But its one thing to know the playbook and execute it in practice; it’s quite another to execute it in a game.
Has Lindley locked down a roster spot? It appears so. Arians talked early in camp about the possibility of keeping just two QBs if the roster spots were better served elsewhere, but Lindley played well in the preseason finale, he knows the team’s personnel and it’s a bit of risk to go to war with just two QBs when your line has allowed 112 sacks the past two seasons.
Outlook: Palmer is undoubtedly an upgrade over his predecessors from the past three seasons. The Cards offense should be more potent (that’s not saying much) but could be turnover-prone if the protection isn’t solid and the run game can’t get going in Cooper’s absence. At least it could be more entertaining in a car-race car-crash kind of way.