TEMPE, Ariz. — Earlier in the season, when Drew Stanton was filling in for an injured Carson Palmer, no one questioned his ability to lead the Arizona Cardinals to victories.
Starting in Weeks 2, 3 and 5, Stanton completed 43-of-88 passes for 529 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Arizona went 2-1 in that stretch, and by the time Palmer returned in Week 6, most were comfortable with the 30-year-old taking over should Palmer go down.
In three starts since Palmer tore his ACL in a 31-14 win over the St. Louis Rams in Week 10, Stanton has completed 59-of-97 passes for 749 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. The Cardinals have gone 1-2 in those games, a stretch that included the offense failing to reach the end zone in 10 straight quarters. That streak nearly reached 11, but was snapped in the team’s final possession against Atlanta after the game had already been decided.
On that last point, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said it was nice to get that touchdown if only to put an end to the touchdown drought, adding it was a good two minute drive in which guys made plays and Stanton was efficient.
“So there’s some good to come out of it,” he said.
However, Stanton’s struggles, along with those of the offense in general, have led to some wondering if the quarterback who before this season had not thrown a regular season pass since 2010 is the right man for the job.
In fact, Arians has been asked if he’d consider going away from Stanton.
“That’s the dumbest damn question I’ve ever heard in my life, I swear to God,” a laughing Arians said. “I had to laugh when it got heard on the radio. It’s like, ‘Really?’ That put a smile on my face.
“The guy is 3-3 as a starter in the National Football League, played very well. He’s had a tough two games. But the guys around him haven’t played very well.”
Technically, Stanton is 5-5 as an NFL starter, having gone 2-2 with the Detroit Lions in 2009 and 2010. On the season, the 30-year-old has completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 1,363 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions.
But the way Arians sees it, the team’s recent offense struggles are not solely on the quarterback’s right shoulder.
“That’s always part of being a quarterback and a coach; I’m surprised they’re not blaming me more, and they should, I haven’t given him enough stuff to win with.”
When asked in what ways he could have helped Stanton more, Arians quipped, “Have a damn better game plan, and put them all in better positions to be successful.”
But no matter what the coach says, people will always look to the quarterback when the offense is not scoring points. Stanton understands the criticism, saying it comes with the territory.
“You get too much success when you guys are winning, and then everybody points the finger, but rightfully so,” he added. “That’s what comes with playing this position, but it’s why you want the ball in your hands every single time on every single snap. For me, it’s a learning experience every time I step out onto the field. I’ve only got a handful on starts under my belt, but at the same time I feel like I’m progressing, I’m learning and seeing everything unfold.”
Besides, as much as Stanton may struggle, the options behind him are Logan Thomas, a fourth-round pick in May’s draft, and Ryan Lindley, a former sixth-round pick who was re-acquired by the Cardinals a few weeks ago after Palmer went down. Prior to that, he had spent the previous couple of months with the San Diego Chargers.
Would either of them be a better option?
None of this is to say Stanton has been perfect, as both he and Arians noted that he has missed some throws. The coach pointed to a dropped touchdown pass and missed field goal as costing them in the loss to Seattle, but said he really only made one bad throw in Atlanta, while making all the proper reads.
“Guys have got to do a better job of getting open and we’ve got to do a hell of a lot better job in pass protection.”
That would most definitely help, though the Cardinals did not allow a sack Sunday in Atlanta. Still, there are plenty of areas the offense could stand to improve, not just at quarterback.
But if nothing else, Stanton has proven capable, which should give some perhaps just a hint of optimism. Has his play been a problem? Absolutely. But has it been the problem?
As important as his position is, that’s not necessarily an easy question to answer.
“It’s just correcting those mistakes,” Stanton said. “We need to just get back to work and make sure that it shows up on the field on Sundays. The biggest thing, the most glaring weakness we have right now is me turning the ball over and us not converting on third downs.
“Those are correctable things. It’s just a matter of us trying to get back in that comfort zone of moving the ball and scoring touchdowns.”