‘It’s on us’; Arizona Cardinals offensive line vows to play better
TEMPE, Ariz. – Two words: Block better.
Head coach Bruce Arians gave a rather simple answer to what has become a not so simple problem for the Arizona Cardinals early in 2017, and that’s the offensive line.
Challenged back in training camp by offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin to keep quarterback Carson Palmer upright in the pocket, that five-man unit has fallen short of its stated goals.
Through three games, no quarterback has taken more hits (27) than Palmer, while only two quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers (13) and Alex Smith (12) — have been sacked more than the 11 times Palmer has been dropped.
“It sucks. It pisses you off because that’s the guy that’s going to lead you to a championship, that’s the guy you want to be behind you and if you can’t protect him, and if something happens, then it’s on you,” right guard Evan Boehm said Wednesday. “It lights a fire under your [expletive], and you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to perform better at practice, work at practice and get better at practice so you can go out and perform in the game.”
Against Dallas, Palmer was hit 11 times and sacked six times; both marks were season-highs.
Fortunately for everyone, and Palmer specifically, that pounding didn’t leave a mark on the Cardinals’ 37-year-old signal-caller. The next morning, Palmer said he woke up feeling no worse than any other day after a game.
“It’s never the number of times,” he said. “It’s just there’s always that one hit you are really sore, where you just get caught kind of wrong or land wrong and then they land on top of you wrong. It’s always dependent on that and not on the number of hits or sacks.”
And did that happen to Palmer on Monday night?
“No, I feel great,” he said.
His offensive line doesn’t.
Watching the film from Monday’s 28-17 loss was difficult, Boehm admitted.
“We’ve got to finish better. If you look at the tape, a lot of the times we were in the right spot. We just need to finish the blocks better,” he said. “I think everybody saw once we gave Carson time, he can throw the ball down the field and have the wide receivers make the plays, so it’s definitely on us to protect Carson…and make sure that he stays upright and can stand in the pocket and feel comfortable and make those throws.”
Of course, the offensive line the Cardinals thought they had this season hasn’t been the one on the field the past two weeks. The entire left side—tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Mike Iupati—has been absent due to injury.
The good news, both Humphries (knee) and Iupati (tricep) were limited at practice on Wednesday. How they look during and how they feel after Thursday’s padded-practice will be a better gauge as to their possible availability this week, according to Arians.
Injuries, though, are not an excuse for poor performance.
“It shouldn’t matter at this level,” Boehm said. “You’re here to play ball. You’ve got to play ball, and I think everybody in the room is capable of playing ball and playing ball at a high level. I don’t think we’ve showed it the last three games. We’re going to turn it around, and we’re going to.”
While the entire offensive line needs to step up its game, one player, in particular, has struggled the most, and that’s right tackle Jared Veldheer. Transitioning from left tackle, Veldheer needs to trust his technique, according to Arians.
It’s Veldheer who has received much of the criticism from fans and media, and it’s been Palmer who has consistently stood up for his teammate. He did it last week and once again this week when questioned about Veldheer.
“I’ve got as much respect and trust in Jared as I’ve had in any offensive lineman I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with Jared for six years. He was protecting my blind side for a long time, and now he’s on the other side,” Palmer said. “I talked to him today. You just bounce back, and I know he’ll bounce back. Like I said, I have a ton of respect, a ton of trust in him. The way he works, the way he prepares, I just know he’ll bounce back, and I have faith in him.”
It’s a short week for the Cardinals. And while that’s typically frowned upon, getting back on the field as soon as possible may be exactly what the offensive line needs right now.
“It’s a quick turnaround but I think it’s going to be a good turnaround that we need to show, not only B.A. and the guys upstairs, but our fans too that this offensive line is a lot better than what we’re showing right now,” Boehm said.