The 2016 version of Carson Palmer is pretty much who he is
TEMPE, Ariz. — As the 2016 NFL season has progressed, there has been a sense among fans and some analysts that Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is not himself, that something is off.
If you view that belief through the lens of his four seasons in Arizona that may be true, but Palmer’s Arizona performance may be skewing the picture because he recorded passer ratings of 104.6 and 95.6 the past two seasons — the first and third highest ratings of his career.
Some of that was due to talented personnel around him, some of it was due to the play-calling of the coaching staff and some of it was no doubt due to a combination of Palmer’s greater wisdom and understanding of the game reaching a performance nexus with a body that was still physically capable of performing at a high level.
There is an unavoidable reality of player performance statistics, however. Provide a large enough body of evidence and you’ll get a pretty accurate read on a player’s norms.
So it is for Palmer, who enters play this weekend at Minnesota with an 86.0 passer rating this season, which ranks 24th in the NFL and sits two points below his career average of 88. His 3.3 touchdown percentage (11 TDs) and 2.4 interception percentage (8 INTs) are both below his career averages of 4.7 and 3.0, essentially balancing each other out, but his 62.5 completion percentage nearly mirrors his career average of 62.7 and his 7.4 yards per completion are exactly his career average.
All of this is to say that Palmer isn’t having a bad year, as some have suggested, and he isn’t having a great year, as many had hoped. He is having a pretty typical year for Carson Palmer, which according to league norms this season is below average in interceptions and passer rating, average in touchdown passes and above average in yards.
“I think he’s been very solid,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Buffalo is his only really bad game. We’ve missed some throws we hit last year and we’ve made some.”
Some have noted that the Bills game in which Palmer threw four interceptions and finished with a quarterback rating of 36.0 is an anomaly that skews his numbers. That’s true of all outliers, however, so if you’re going to throw out that game then you should probably throw out his three-touchdown, 124-passer rating game against Tampa Bay in Week 2. Do that and the picture looks slightly better than it does right now, with a passer rating of 92, which coincidentally is just short of his 92.5 average with the Cardinals.
“I’ve got a long way to go but I’m always trying to improve and always feel like I can play better, especially this week,” Palmer said in turning his attention to raucous U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. “This is one of those games. It’s a very difficult environment, very good defense. I’ve got to play my best game to date and I expect to do so.”
To be fair, there are problems with assuming Palmer’s career statistics represent who he is because there are variables at play. The Oakland teams he played on for two seasons were awful while Cincinnati was up and down, with two winning seasons, two dismal seasons and three seasons of essentially .500 ball.
Arizona went 10-6, 11-5 and 13-3 the past three seasons. Palmer is clearly impacted by what’s happening around him, but that is also true of this season. The Cardinals offensive line has suffered key injuries this season to right guard Evan Mathis and left tackle Jared Veldheer, Palmer has been working with a new center this season (A.Q. Shipley) and the receiving corps just hasn’t been the same.
“John Brown hasn’t been John Brown all year and he’s just getting there,” Arians said. “Mike Floyd is getting there so I think some guys have affected his performance also.”
Opponents have also seemingly solved one of the Cardinals’ biggest strengths.
“The difference between last year and this year is with the deep balls,” Brown said. “Teams are not giving us that many chances to make those big plays that we usually make.”
Some of those problems could resolve over the second half of the season, but the offensive line losses will not so it’s probably not fair to believe that Palmer’s performance will improve dramatically over the final seven games of the season — especially since five of those are on the road. The Cardinals are 4-4-1. In those three seasons in Cincinnati when the Bengals were basically a .500 team, Palmer’s passer rating was exactly the same it is right now: 86.
If the conditions around him aren’t optimal, this may just be who Carson Palmer is.
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