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PFF: Cardinals have NFL’s sixth-best passing attack

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

It wasn’t too long ago where the Arizona Cardinals had one of the most feared passing attacks in the NFL.

With Carson Palmer at quarterback and Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd and J.J. Nelson the receivers, the Cardinals in 2015 were second in the league in passing yards and tied for third in touchdowns via the air.

Arizona slid a bit in 2016, however, with Palmer struggling to find consistency and only Fitzgerald being a reliable option. Floyd struggled with drops before being released, Brown battled through a sickle-cell trait and was a shell of his normal self, and Nelson was good at times, but largely inconsistent.

The Cardinals still managed to have the ninth-most passing yards in the league in large part due to running back David Johnson, whose 80 catches, 879 yards and four touchdowns supplemented Fitzgerald, who led all of football with 107 receptions that he turned into 1,023 yards and six scores.

Those two return, and with Brown healthy and Nelson taking another step forward, the Cardinals figure to once again have a good passing attack. Heading into the season, ProFootballFocus ranked Arizona’s passing game sixth overall.

RB David Johnson highlights the Cardinals at No. 6, as all he did in 2016 was field the highest receiving grade among all 62 qualifying running backs. His 92.6 grade was second across all positions, to only Julio Jones. QB Carson Palmer threw the third most TDs on quick passes (21), Larry Fitzgerald finished joint-second with 63 receptions from the slot, and the combination of J.J. Nelson and John Brown gives the Cardinals receiving threats that start to stack up. Can Nelson and Brown increase their yards per route run from last season? If so, watch out NFC West.

Palmer being effective with short passes makes sense, as the Cardinals adjusted their passing attack last season to feature more quick routes as the offensive line struggled to hold up.

That said, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians would like to throw the ball down the field, which is where Brown — who averaged 13.3 yards per catch last season, and Nelson, who was at 16.7, come into play.

Along with those players, the Cardinals will also count on Jaron Brown, who is coming back from a torn ACL, and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas. Chad Williams, a third-round pick out of Grambling State, and Brittan Golden, who had a good offseason, could also make an impact this season.

Ranked ahead of the Cardinals on the list are the New England Patriots, who claimed the top spot, along with the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

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