Updated Oct 24, 2011 - 1:39 pm
Fellow receivers are not responsible for Larry Fitzgerald's down season
31 receptions, 505 yards, two touchdowns. Not embarrassing, but not great. And, as we all know, Fitz is great. So what's the problem?
Well, it's not that the team isn't trying to get him the ball. The Pro Bowler has been targeted a team-best 52 times this season and his receptions have been good for 23 first downs, meaning the Cardinals are looking for him often and in important situations.
And it's not like Fitzgerald is struggling with a bad case of the dropsies, as he's been credited with just two this season. Stack those up against all the amazing catches he's made this season and you realize No. 11 is still at the top of his game.
But why is he just 17th in the NFL in receptions (tied with Tampa Bay's duo of Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow) and in a 34-way tie for 20th in touchdown catches, with as many scores as players like Kellen Davis, Preston Parker, Daniel Fells, Jason Hill and Ben Obomanu?
There are a lot of reasons, but the lack of a proven No. 2 wideout opposite Fitz is not one of them.
Indeed, many have pointed to Early Doucet and Andre Roberts as the reason for Fitzgerald's muted stats, with the idea that teams are able to double team the star because they are not concerned with anyone else on the field.
They remember the days when Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston were also on the field, helping to lead one of the most potent passing attacks in the league. Fitzgerald put up monster numbers those seasons, emerging as one of the game's most feared players. While it's true those two made the passing game better, but they really didn't do much for Fitzgerald.
To wit: Anquan Boldin missed four games in 2007, and Fitzgerald tallied 31 catches, 432 yards and two touchdowns in those contests. The Quan missed five more games the next year, with Fitzgerald compensating by hauling in 28 catches for 528 yards and seven touchdowns. Boldin missed just one game the following year - his last with the Cardinals - and Fitzgerald responded by catching nine passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in a road win over the Bears.
Seven catches, 108 yards and one touchdown per game. Not exactly struggling. Yet now his problems should be attributed to the other wideouts on the field?
The biggest difference in the passing game, from then until now, is the player whose job it is to get Fitzgerald the ball. Kurt Warner was great, and he found a way to get the ball to his stars. If Fitzgerald was open, Kurt didn't miss him. If Fitzgerald wasn't open, Kurt wouldn't miss him. Kevin Kolb can't say the same, because while he's connected on some big plays, there have been a few times this season - and Sunday against the Steelers - where the QB just failed to deliver a catchable pass. That's not on Fitz, and it's certainly not on the other receivers.
Even with Kolb's struggles Fitzgerald's average of 16.3 yards per catch would easily be the highest of his career, so it's not as if the 4-11 connection is a complete disaster. It's just not where it needs to be, though fault does not lie with the team's other receiving options.
The truth is Early Doucet has done a nice job opposite Fitz, with 26 catches and a pair of scores, the tight end trio of Jeff King, Todd Heap and Rob Housler has done a good job getting open and the running game has been enough of a threat so that teams can't solely game-plan for Fitzgerald.
And while defenses are certainly bracketing Fitz to keep him in check, he is not the first star wideout the league has ever seen, and yet somehow stars like Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith and Roddy White continue to shine, and none of them play opposite another great receiver.
Right now Fitzgerald is on pace for just 83 receptions this year, a total that would represent his lowest since 2006, when the team stunk and he played in just 13 games.
But with Doucet heading for what could be a 70 catch season and Arizona's tight ends will finish with more receptions than any season in recent memory, it would really be unfair - if not inaccurate - to point to Fitzgerald's teammates as reason for his "struggles."