I was fascinated to listen to the NFL Network coverage after Thursday night’s game and hear Kurt Warner talk about how the Cardinals are using Larry Fitzgerald more inside than outside and its causing him to face a lot of zone coverages.
Fitzgerald obviously had his most success in the league being outside where he is better once he can get that big body going. As an inside player, you have to be ready to adjust your route all the time depending on the pressure. There are a ton of adjustments for inside players, a lot of reads to make. It is much more of a mental game. You become more of a thinker.
The Cardinals still use their $120 million receiver on the outside, just not as much as he is used to and not as much as he should be. I imagine the Cardinals’ offensive brain trust wants to get Fitz away from defenses rolling a safety over the top of him and causing double coverage. But when defenses see Larry inside, they go zone and he is not in man-to-man coverage where he excels.
Playing inside has caused Fitz to play much slower than he is accustomed to. He was never great at getting separation, whether lining up inside or outside. He is great at is getting position. He uses his body as well as anyone in the league at shielding/screening off defenders and uses his reach and great hands to make catches even with a defender in tight coverage.
The numbers don’t lie. Fitz is having a down year. He is not playing as a top receiver in this league, just an average one with 32 catches for 432 yards. He’s only topped the 100-yard mark once this year while failing to rack up 70 yards in five games — including two where his total was under 35.
That’s certainly not the Fitz we are accustomed to. I’m sure the hamstring injury is playing some role in his ineffectiveness, but I tend to think it has more to do with the way he is being used.