The bye week comes at a good time for both the Arizona Cardinals and writers who cover the team.
A Week 9 respite is great for the players and coaches, who get a break exactly halfway through their season, and it’s good for the writers because it’s easier to do the math with regards to projecting the current stats.
Take everything that’s happened, multiply it by two, and you have your number. It’s great, really, especially when you realize most of us chose this industry in part because math doesn’t quite agree with us.
But enough about that side of things, as there is no reason to completely tear down the fourth wall here. Sticking with the Cardinals, they are 6-2 and receiving contributions from all over their roster. Of course, there are also players who have had a disappointing first eight games.
Here’s a look at five players from each side of the spectrum.
The Great Halves
Stats: 2,386 yards, 20 touchdown passes, six interceptions
Pace: 4,772 yards, 40 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions
Well that could not have gone much better, right? Palmer is tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes and has put his name in the conversation for league MVP. In fact, when asked about his QB’s candidacy, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, “I don’t see why not. He’s playing right there with them, if not better. He hasn’t had a 50, or 75-yard, game yet.” Indeed, Palmer has done pretty much everything you’d ask of a QB, save for not being able to come up with one more big play in each of the team’s two losses. His fourth quarter interception in Pittsburgh was certainly concerning, but it looks more like the exception than the rule for a 35-year-old passer who is playing as well as he ever has. It’s worth noting that if his current pace holds up, Palmer would become the franchise leader for touchdown passes in a season as well as passing yards and passer rating (which is 110.2).
Stats: 141 carries, 676 yards, three rushing touchdowns
Pace: 282 carries, 1,352 yards, six rushing touchdowns
What a revelation Johnson has been. From training camp addition to bell cow running back, his rise to the top of the rushing charts has been nothing short of remarkable. He’s shown excellent burst, speed and vision as well as some surprising power. Is he the CJ2K of his Tennessee days? No, but this version of the running back is a pretty good fit for Arizona’s offense. The only thing that will likely hold his numbers back, if anything, is the amount of carries. His 30-tote effort in Cleveland boosted that number, but Arians said afterward he thinks that was probably a little too much for him. With Andre Ellington and David Johnson healthy and deserving of roles, too, it’s possible Chris Johnson will be limited by touches, not ability.
Stats: 56 total tackles, one forced fumble, zero interceptions
Pace: 112 total tackles, two forced fumbles, zero interceptions
Arguably the team’s most important player on defense because of his versatility, Arizona’s “safebacker” has made his presence known more in the box than in coverage. Given his role, it’s hard to see him not eclipsing the 100-tackle mark, though if he drops into coverage more that number could suffer while his interceptions total increases. Either way, the Cardinals have been very happy with his production, as he leads the team in total tackles and is tied for second in tackles for loss.
Stats: 55 receptions, 706 yards, seven touchdowns
Pace: 110 receptions, 1,412 yards, 14 touchdowns
Yes, he’s still got it. Fitzgerald has cooled off a little bit of late, but is still on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career. The 32-year-old has been a consistent big-play threat for the team as well as a chain-mover. Need a big catch? Find No. 11. The pace he’s on would establish new career highs for catches and touchdowns which, which is certainly possible. Yet, with John Brown’s continued emergence and the return to health (and prominence) of Michael Floyd, it would not be a shock to see the veteran’s numbers dip a little due to the fact that, quite simply, the team has plenty of options in the passing game.
Stats: 37 receptions, 562 yards, three touchdowns
Pace: 74 receptions, 1,124 yards, six touchdowns
“Smokey” got off to a bit of a slow start this season but has really turned it on of late with 25 catches for 409 yards and two touchdowns over his last four games. He missed Arizona’s eighth contest — a win in Cleveland — which undoubtedly kept his stats a little down. However, he is at worst Arizona’s No. 2 option in the passing game (behind Fitzgerald), and as he showed in Pittsburgh, is capable of being No. 1. Like with any of the team’s receivers, their production will really depend on game flow and matchups.
The Lesser Halves
Stats: 24 carries, 160 yards, two rushing touchdowns
Pace: 48 carries, 320 yards, four rushing touchdowns
Ellington entered the season as the team’s starting running back, but quickly lost that job due to injury and the surprisingly effective play of Chris Johnson. Since his return to the field in Week 5 Ellington has seen a very minimal role, even while Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has claimed the third-year pro will see an increase in snaps. That could happen, sure, and probably will in certain situations. But eight games into this season it appears Ellington will not be the player many thought he would be, albeit for a variety of different reasons.
Stats: Six total tackles
Pace: 12 total tackles
Cardinals GM Steve Keim is renowned for his ability to find value with one-year contracts, and many thought Weatherspoon would be the latest in a long line of success stories if he could just stay healthy. The former Atlanta Falcon has done that, but just cannot find his way onto the field in any consistent role. He did see some snaps in Week 8 against Cleveland and could still find a role — especially if there are injuries to the team’s linebackers — but otherwise this year may go down as one where the former first-round pick proved he could stay healthy but not that he can play at a high level.
Stats: 11 receptions, 132 yards, zero touchdowns
Pace: 22 receptions, 264 yards, zero touchdowns
Much was expected of the former Pro Bowler when he joined the Cardinals, but Gresham started the season off slow as Darren Fells gobbled up what few passes went to a tight end. However, with Fells sidelined the former Cincinnati Bengal began to reemerge as a target in the passing game, with six of his catches and 81 of his yards coming over the final two games before the bye week. While he is not likely to be featured in the passing game, his history — both as a productive pass catcher as well as with Carson Palmer — should allow him to maintain at least some sort of role, which would likely lead to his final statistics being better than what he is currently on pace for.
Stats: Six games played, six games started
Pace: 12 games played, 12 games started
Obviously Massie’s pace is irrelevant, at least in games, because he missed the first two due to a suspension. Assuming he stays healthy, the fourth-year pro should start in 14 games, though according to ProFootballFocus, Massie has been the weak link along Arizona’s much-improved offensive line. He has shown flashes of excellence in the past, which is reason enough to believe he could improve. He may have to, especially if first-round pick D.J. Humphries — also a right tackle — is improving as quickly as the coaches say he is.
Stats: 40 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss
Pace: 80 total tackles, 3.0 sacks, 16 tackles for loss
Now, before you get all up in arms, it is not as if Campbell is having a terrible season, especially given that he’s kind of learning a new position as he has moved inside much of the time. He’s on pace to notch the most tackles in his career, which would be good, but he would also record the fewest number of sacks since he didn’t tally any as a rookie, which would be bad. Arians said Campbell, who reached his first Pro Bowl last season, has the talent to dominate a football game and has shown he’s capable, but “he needs to do it all the time.” Fair enough.
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