TEMPE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck have a few things in common.
Both attended Pac-10 schools, as Palmer went to USC and Luck Stanford.
Both were selected first overall in their respective drafts, with Palmer heading to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003 and Luck to the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.
But in terms of Sunday’s matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the Colts, the most important thing they have in common is both have played in Bruce Arians’ offense.
Both found it to be rather challenging to learn.
“It was difficult,” Luck said in a conference call Wednesday. “A lot of times, I remember in OTAs and early in training camp where I felt very lost, in a sense.”
Luck ended up figuring it out, though, and went on to throw for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns while leading the Colts on a surprising run to the playoffs.
This year it’s Palmer’s turn, and the veteran has talked before about how much of a challenge it has been to learn Arians’ system. However, Arians said after Sunday’s win over the Jaguars that he believes Palmer “has a total understanding of what we’re doing.”
Palmer agreed with his coach, saying the offense as a whole has turned a corner.
“The last couple of weeks, yeah,” he said Wednesday. “I think over the last two or three weeks, in practice especially, things have really started to click.”
Last season, Luck completed 160-of-288 passes for 1,971 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in his first seven games. His QB rating was 74.5. Over his last nine games, the rookie completed 179-of-339 passes for 2,403 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His QB rating was 78.1.
Chances are, at least some of Luck’s improvement can be attributed to a rookie who started getting acclimated to the NFL, but it also stands to reason the former Stanford Cardinal had begun to grasp the offense, too. That, Arians said, is something that can take longer depending on how long a quarterback has been playing.
“Totally different, because he’s got all these preconceived notions having been with four or five other coordinators” the coach said of teaching a veteran like Palmer compared to a rookie like Luck. “‘This play is like that play and we read it…’ Nope, you don’t read it that way. That’s not why we ran it that way.
“When you get a rookie, you can brainwash him real quick. Forget all that stuff from college and start learning at page one. It was very simple when you have a rookie; it’s much harder with a veteran player.”
That does not mean it isn’t possible.
Over the team’s last three games — all wins — Palmer has completed 63-of-92 passes for 832 yards with six touchdowns and just two interceptions. Sunday, against Jacksonville, the quarterback did not throw an interception for the first time as a Cardinal.
“The rhythm and timing of the passing game is not something you just get from looking at a piece of paper or watching it on film,” Palmer said. “It takes repetition after repetition, and it takes sometimes longer than you’d like, but it’s just one of those things that you have to continue to work at it over and over and over again.”
In other words, sometimes it takes time.
If Arizona is to reach the postseason, it will likely be due to Palmer and the offense more closely resembling what they’ve been the last three games and not the six that preceded them. At 6-4, the Cardinals are in position to make a Colts-like run, and they wouldn’t be there if not for the team they’re going to face Sunday.
After all, it was due to his work in Indianapolis that put Arians on the Cardinals’ radar when they wanted to replace Ken Whisenhunt, and the film of Luck running the offense has been helpful to Palmer’s efforts to do the same.
“You (only) get so much on a piece on a piece of paper and in a playbook,” he said. “The way I’ve always learned is kind of a visual learner and watching it work on the field, and I learned a lot of their offense through Indianapolis cutups and film and saw him do a number of things.
“Obviously there are a lot of things he does very well. I gained a lot of respect for his game just from watching 16 weeks from last year.”