Arizona Cardinals look to spread the ball around
TEMPE, Ariz. — It is said in circles (usually made up of children in a preschool or kindergarten classroom) that “sharing is caring.”
It turns out the Arizona Cardinals believe in it, too.
In last Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders, nine different players caught at least one pass. On the season, 12 different Cardinals have tallied at least one reception, helping to give the offense a versatile and unpredictable passing attack.
The Cardinals do not have a player in the top 50 of the league in receptions and Michael Floyd is tied for 39th in the league in receiving yards, but what the team does have is a 5-1 record, and to them that’s all that matters.
“I’ve been telling you guys from day one, we’re loaded at the skill positions,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Some of the best skill guys I’ve been around in my 11 years in the league. We’ve got receivers, we’ve got tight ends, we’ve got very good backs.
“To me, spreading the ball around, that’s a good thing to have. That’s a good problem to have. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
In theory, the team’s passing game should only improve as quarterback Carson Palmer continues to regain his timing and strength following a three-game absence due to an injured nerve in his throwing shoulder.
But even with an effective Palmer under center, there is no guarantee any one player’s numbers will see a big jump. One game, Larry Fitzgerald may be the top dog, and the next it could be Floyd or John Brown. Then, against a different opponent, running back Andre Ellington may see the bulk of the targets in the passing game.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has long maintained that the offense is not designed to go to any one player on any given play, but instead to give the quarterback as many options as possible to make a play.
“I’ve been in offenses where the majority of the plays are designed to go to one guy,” Palmer said. “This is not the case. This system is not designed to go to the X or the Z or the Y. It depends on the coverage. If they’re going to take this away, here’s our answer for that.”
That kind of game plan will drive both fantasy football managers and defensive coordinators crazy.
“Well, it’s good offensively. I think the main thing it makes you do is really prepare,” Palmer said. “The opposing defense has to worry about a lot of different guys and think about a lot of different guys and a lot of different motions, a lot of different formations.
“It’s definitely easier when you have one guy you throw 60-70 percent of the balls to key on him and double him and not worry about anybody else. But in this system, you’ve got running backs who can catch it and go the distance; you have receivers that can do that, tight ends that can do that, so there are a lot of guys you have to cover.”
During the early parts of last season, Palmer tended to struggle with that and would instead sometimes try and force the ball to a receiver who was not open. As he’s become more comfortable in the offense, however, he’s been more apt to spread the wealth, and the team has benefited from it.
That is why, as wideout Fitzgerald said, there are no complaints about touches or looks among a group of players who are accustom to getting their fair share.
“We all care about our touches and looks, don’t get me wrong,” a smiling Fitzgerald said. “We just don’t put our touches or looks in front of what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. I think there’s a distinct difference.
“Everybody, you’re playing ball your whole life, you play in the NFL you’ve been ‘the man’ your entire life; you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. So you have to put that aside and focus on what is best for your team, and I think everybody has a good grasp of that.”
Palmer, who is on his third team in his 12th NFL season, said he has in the past had receivers approach him to tell him he needs to throw them the ball more, but that it has not been the case in Arizona. Part of why that is, he said, is because the passes he is throwing — to whomever he is throwing them to — are being completed.
“As long as the ball’s moving, our guys are happy and they’re blocking for each other and being used as a decoy for each other to get each other open,” he said. “They’re very unselfish.”
A lot goes into the mindset, but that seems to be the central theme. While every one of the players thinks they are capable of making the play — and they’re probably right — as long as someone is getting the job done, they are fine with where the ball goes.
And that’s just how the head coach wants it to be.
“They’re very unselfish. You have to check your ego at the door,” Arians said. “It’s about eliminating interceptions and taking what defenses give you. When you have the number of tools we have, we put five guys out there who are more than capable of breaking a game open, don’t force feed anybody.”