It is no secret that the Arizona Cardinals offense is
struggling, as one needs only look at Larry Fitzgerald’s
statistics to see there are some issues.
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
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
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.”