Through the beating and blame, Carson Palmer still enjoys life as an NFL QB
TEMPE, Ariz. — Among the many people who have been blamed for the Arizona Cardinals’ struggles this season, quarterback Carson Palmer has received more than his fair share.
To some degree, it makes sense.
The veteran quarterback who produced an MVP-caliber season last year has not come close to replicating the performance that helped guide the Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game and position the team as Super Bowl contenders, and he has given away some crucial turnovers.
“Yeah, you’re the bum or the hero, depending on a win or a loss,” Palmer said. “That’s the way the game is played. I learned that in I think fifth grade when I started playing quarterback. That was one of the first things the coach taught us.”
Was he actually being called a bum in the fifth grade?
“Oh no, always,” Palmer said. “Win or loss, there is always finger pointing, and it’s easy to do that. I got broad shoulders. I’m used to it. I need to play better, there is no doubt about that, and I look forward to playing this Sunday and playing better.”
There is a reason why quarterbacks get paid the most money, and Palmer is being rewarded handsomely this season, as he is playing under a contract that has a salary cap hit of more than $18 million. Given that in nine games he has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 2,642 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, it may seem like a lot. Maybe even too much.
That’s certainly a subject that can be debated, but when it comes to the amount of blame Palmer is receiving — especially from fans — Cardinals coach Bruce Arians believes the angst is misguided.
“Well they’re wrong on that one,” he said. “The quarterback and head coach usually, or the offensive coordinator, since I’m both of them, we’ll take all the blame. It goes with the territory. But, Carson, he put a lot trust in some guys that haven’t come through for him.”
During his time with the Cardinals, Palmer has never been one to blame his teammates, and that has not changed this season. When asked about his offensive line, he has admitted it’s challenging with many new and inexperienced players being expected to protect him, yet maintained they can get the job done.
And when it comes to his receivers, he has expressed nothing but confidence that they are playing well and will start making big plays.
But to Arians’ point, while Palmer may not be playing at the level he did last season, few on the offense are, and it’s tough for a quarterback to look like an MVP when the players surrounding him are struggling.
Last week against Minnesota, Palmer was under pressure on 27 of his 42 dropbacks, which amounts to nearly 63 percent. He was sacked just four times, but hit 23 times and dropped to the turf 17.
“I felt bad for him,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. Goodwin spends much of his time working with the offensive line.
“Just from the standpoint of things that we could have done better in my room, we didn’t do a good job.”
Goodwin noted there are times where the protection mandates that a rusher will come free, and to that point, there are times where it is up to Palmer to ensure he does not take a hit on a play. If he identifies the right rusher and gets the ball out of his hands quickly, then he should be fine.
But if he doesn’t know who is coming or holds onto the ball too long, well, you know what can happen.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, however, there have been multiple times this season where even when Palmer has gotten the pass away, it has hit the turf due to a receiver dropping it or not running the proper route. Both of Palmer’s interceptions against the Vikings — one of which was returned for a touchdown — could be pinned on his wideouts not doing their jobs properly.
And if the receivers don’t do what they are supposed to, Palmer is likely to turn the ball over and deal with more hits.
“I can only speak for the receivers, and coach (Darryl) Drake talks to us about it all the time, we need to work on our routes better and do certain things so we won’t’ have to put Carson in that predicament,” John Brown said.
Fellow receiver Larry Fitzgerald said he did not think there was any extra focus this week in practice based off of what happened in Minnesota, but understood something was off last week.
“I think attention to detail in the game wasn’t where it needed to be,” he said. “I don’t know what to attribute to that, I just know we can’t make those type of mistakes.
“Coach continues to talk about the Arizona Cardinals beating the Arizona Cardinals, and we can’t continue to let that happen.”
The byproduct of the Cardinals beating the Cardinals has been other teams beating up Palmer.
In nine games this season (he missed one due to a concussion) this season he has been sacked 30 times, which is five more than he sustained in 16 games last year.
For comparison’s sake, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, who missed this past Thursday’s game with a concussion, has been sacked 35 times in 10 games, while Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton has been sacked 29 times in 10 games.
Not surprisingly, Arians is concerned about the pressure his 36-year-old passer has been under.
“Your quarterback gets hit 20 times,” he said. “I don’t care if he’s 25 years old, if he gets hit 25 times during a game, he’s going to get hurt, sooner or later.”
Palmer will turn 37 late next month and yet, hit after hit, he has continued to get up and keep fighting. His teammates notice.
“Me, it just shows his selflessness,” running back David Johnson said. “It keeps me striving to help him out and keep the pocket clean. It motivates me to keep going even through my bruises and stuff.
“Him being able to do that shows a lot of grit.”
That’s not a bad trait to have in a leader.
“That’s the type of person Carson is, he’s tough,” Brown said. “But you know, just seeing him back there getting hit like that, I’m thinking we’ve got to push harder, get to our depth faster so we won’t have to put him in that situation.”
A veteran of 14 NFL seasons, Palmer’s career is certainly closer to its end than its beginning. His issues this season, both in his play and with the protection (or lack of) he is receiving, has led some analysts and talking heads to believe that he is “not a championship quarterback,” as NFL.com’s Adam Schein opined, or even looks like “he’s about ready to hang e’m up,” as ESPN’s Mark Dominik said.
With the extension Palmer signed during training camp, he is under contract through the 2018 season, and the Cardinals have given little indication they are ready to move on from him. However, like Kurt Warner nearly seven years ago, it would not come as a total shock if Palmer walked away from the game before his contract expired.
Given the number of hits he has been taking, could you blame him?
For what it’s worth, Palmer said he knows he has been sacked a lot, but that it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. He feels good and is still enjoying the process and work that goes into being an NFL player.
So while analysts may be thinking he is about done, be it due to perceived body language or whatever, Palmer was adamant that this season, albeit disappointing up to this point, has not dampened his inner fire.
Besides, he still thinks the Cardinals can be a playoff team.
“Regardless of what our record is, that doesn’t control how I feel or how I prepare or how I enjoy the game,” he said. “I enjoy the game. Like I said, I cannot wait until Sunday to get past this next step and move on. Regardless of what our wins and losses are, I look forward to the Sundays and look forward to the preparation.”