It doesn’t seem that long ago that the hopes of the Arizona Cardinals and the Red Sea were about to be washed away with the tide.
Specifically it was August 30th in Oakland — not even a month ago — when the Cardinals preseason performance versus Raiders inspired nothing but doubt about the offensive line’s ability to protect quarterback Carson Palmer.
Three sacks. Countless pressures. Waning confidence. Oakland’s Khalil Mack in Palmer’s face every play, or so it seemed. It was so oppressive, NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth suggested that Bruce Arians take Palmer out of the game for his own protection.
After the game, Arians confidently responded “pass protection is not an issue,” and the cynics in the crowd promptly rolled their eyes.
Reason #58 why there ought to be a national moratorium on drawing conclusions from a preseason game.
Palmer has been terrific; a trend that dates back to his last 17 starts now. The offense has been perfect inside the red zone, there are targets aplenty to get the ball to and the run game has been more than acceptable.
Of course, it all starts up front.
Sure Palmer has been pressured, hit and hurried. It can always get better. But through the first two games, he has yet to be sacked. And the running game, averaging a bottom-scraping 3.3 yards per carry last year, is up to 4.4 this year.
Given the time to read a defense with the cadre of weapons at his disposal and a competent running game behind him, there seems to be little Palmer can’t do in this offense. The numbers, albeit against not-so-great competition, would bear that out. The Cards are a perfect 7-for-7 in red zone opportunities.
In theory, it should only get better. Mike Iupati could return this week, while Bobby Massie will. The good-problem-to-have cliche will be put to good use this week. Earl Watford has done well enough to make this a conversation about who starts, but the end result is depth that the Cardinals will surely need over the course of this season.
The competition has been light. The Saints look like a team whose house is desperate for a remodel, while the Bears frighten no one, even at home. The next two weeks with the 49ers and Rams will tell us more, but for now, consider this:
I didn’t choose the number 58 randomly. In the final season before general manager Steve Keim became the shot caller of the Cardinals roster, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer were sacked a combined 58 times. Year one of Arians and Keim, 41 sacks. Year two, 28. So far in 2015, none.
Give Palmer time and the running game a little space to keep everybody honest and there’s no telling what this offense is capable of.