Cardinals season review: Quarterback
Carson Palmer: Palmer threw a career-high 22 interceptions this season and finished the season with five in his last two games. He finished with two sub-90 passer ratings (against two of the NFL’s best defenses) after topping that mark six times in his previous seven games. With 22 interceptions, he tied for the second-highest total in the league behind Eli Manning with 27.
But 14 of Palmer’s interceptions came over the first half of the season, so there is the belief internally that as he learned Bruce Arians’ offense and the Cardinals’ personnel, and as the players got on the same page with one another, his mistakes dropped and his effectiveness increased.
There is merit to that argument given his second-half performance and the Cardinals’ 7-2 finish. His 24 TDs were the most he’d managed since 2010, when he was with Cincinnati, and his 4,274 yards were a career best and the eight-most in the NFL this year.
Palmer has shown a veteran’s ability to put past mistakes behind him in games and rally his team with big plays, and that’s an ingredient that has been missing from the Cardinals since Kurt Warner retired. That savvy gives confidence to the entire team, as defensive tackle Darnell Dockett noted last week.
"Some guys that I’ve seen would have clocked out on us. One hit and he would have been out nine weeks. That guy (Palmer) has been playing hurt all season. Don’t make no excuses. Come to practice. Do treatment before. Do treatment after. As a guy who has been here 10 years, I can appreciate a quarterback like that.
"That’s what I’m talking about with a winning attitude. Him and Kurt are the best two quarterbacks I’ve played with. And it’s not because they can throw touchdowns and make smart adjustments. It’s because they are tough. You know you are going to be hit. You know you are going to get hurt. You know in Week 10 you won’t feel like you did in Week 1, but what are you going to do to help the team win? We’ll sacrifice for him."
He’s a warrior. You can win with a guy like that. He throws a few picks, who cares? He’s going to do everything he can do to win a football game.
One of the keys for the Cardinals’ offense moving forward will be whether they can improve Palmer’s protection on deeper routes. The Cards altered their game plan as the season progressed to begin with shorter routes to improve the timing of the passing game, get Palmer in a rhythm and allow the offensive line time to get its feet wet, but if the Cards have to keep giving their left tackle help, it limits what they can do offensively. Assuming they address that in the offseason, there is plenty of reason for optimism in 2014.
"This offense is something that can be very dangerous going into Year 2, where everybody has a good feel for the calls and hots (reads) and protections and concepts — where everybody knows every route," Palmer said after the loss to the 49ers in the season finale. "As much as it stinks to have this feeling right now, I’m excited about the future."
Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley: Stanton hasn’t thrown a regular-season pass since 2010, and no matter what anyone says to the contrary, that will be a major a concern should he have to do so next season if Palmer gets hurt. Stanton knows Arians’ system, having played for him the past two seasons, and there is some value to sitting back and studying, but there is no matching regular-season game speed or the complexity of defenses in real time. At this point, it’s impossible to say what Stanton is capable of. Lindley was a project when the Cardinals drafted him in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. If the Cardinals decide to select their QB of the future in this year’s draft, Lindley could be gone.
The Cardinals don’t need to sign a veteran free agent, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Palmer will be the starter heading into next season, and Stanton, who played for coach Bruce Arians in Indianapolis as well and understands his offense, will likely start as the backup. If the Cards can upgrade at a reasonable price, however, it’s not out of the question. They’ve shown time and again that they are willing to cut ties with existing personnel if someone who could improve the roster is available.
The Cardinals need a young quarterback to groom as their signal caller of the future, but GM Steve Keim has made it clear he will not overvalue a player simply because the team has a need. Keim will have to love the player he is drafting in order to take that leap, especially because a QB would come in one of the draft’s earlier rounds.