Dealing Cards: As players around him have improved, so too has Carson Palmer

Dec 7, 2016, 4:46 PM | Updated: Dec 9, 2016, 12:04 am

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws under pressure by Washington Redskins defens...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws under pressure by Washington Redskins defensive end Trent Murphy (93) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s fair to say Carson Palmer has not had the kind of season anyone was hoping for, at least in comparison to the MVP-caliber campaign he put together in 2015.

But he hasn’t been terrible, as his 61.3 percent completion percentage, 3,231 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions represent.

Interestingly, Palmer is actually throwing for more yards per game this season than last, and over his last three games, the veteran has thrown seven touchdown passes against just three interceptions.

What’s changed for the 36-year-old the last few weeks?

“The guys around him are all playing better,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “And we haven’t had to play from way behind and that’s always when you’re bang, bang, bang, throwing, throwing, throwing, you’re going to throw some interceptions.

“But he’s been, for three quarters in most games, he’s been spot on.”

Truth be told, outside of a four-interception performance in Buffalo in Week 3 — a game in which all four picks happened in the fourth quarter while the Cardinals were down two touchdowns — Palmer has not really had any terrible games. He has not thrown an interception in five games this season, and has tossed at least two touchdown passes in six outings.

Again, not what he did last season, but not awful.

“I don’t know, we’ve played well as a group this last week,” Palmer said of why he’s been better. “We weren’t in a situation where we were throwing it the entire second half and down by multiple scores.

“And, I think really focused on trying to get the ball out as quick as possible and get it to guys like Dave (Johnson) and let him — there might be somebody open further down the field, but getting the ball out quick and not putting us at risk and giving Dave a chance to get the ball down the field.”

There no doubt has been an adjustment period that has come with the team’s offense moving more toward a David Johnson-centric style, though the change makes sense given just how dynamic a player the running back has proven to be.

For Palmer, having that as well as an i nconsistent group of receivers and an offensive line struggling to protect gives ample reason to adjust his game. Instead of constantly looking for the deep ball, which requires him to hang onto it longer and hope one of his receivers will make a play, he is more apt to quickly get rid of it to his running back.

Johnson then gets to do what he does best, in making a play, whereas Palmer more often than not avoids taking an unnecessary hit.

Palmer has been sacked 34 times this season — tied for second behind Andrew Luck, who has been dropped 36 times — and has been hit countless others.

Incidentally, that he has played better over his last three games — including a pair of losses to Minnesota and Atlanta, both games where he took more than his fair share of hits — is something one would not necessarily expect from a quarterback who is approaching his 37th birthday.

“He’s tough as nails,” Arians said. “You see guys get happy feet, but he’s rock solid in that regard.”

Palmer has missed just one game this season, in Week 5 due to a concussion. To him, standing tall in the pocket and withstanding some punishment comes with the territory.

“I think every quarterback has something that makes him different from the others,” he said. “I don’t have the 4.3 speed to take off and run and create with my legs, I guess. I’ve always felt one of my strengths was being able to take hits and stay in the pocket and throw it, and it’s something that has gotten me this far and I need to continue to get better at it and be more on platform and more on balance and push through throws more often, because it’s not where it needs to be. I need to continue to get better at it.”

Injury update

The week’s first injury report can be found here, and for the Cardinals, receivers John Brown and Larry Fitzgerald as well as linebacker Markus Golden, safety Tyrann Mathieu, quarterback Carson Palmer, defensive lineman Frostee Rucker and cornerback Tharold Simon did not practice Wednesday.

Arians said they will increase Brown’s reps Thursday and then again Friday, following the same pattern they used last week. For Fitzgerald, Palmer and Rucker, it was a scheduled day off for “old guys,” as the coach put it.

As for Mathieu, however, the shoulder injury that has kept him out of three of the last four games is still an issue, and Arians is not sure if his player will be back soon.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said. “Range of motion is a little bit of a problem right now, but the strength is coming back.”

But, Arians said, Mathieu still having problems with the shoulder is a surprise.

Kicking is great, but can he hold?

On Tuesday, the Cardinals added punter Matt Wile to their practice squad.

The 24-year-old has appeared in just one NFL game — a few weeks ago for the Falcons against the Cardinals — where he averaged 58 yards on two punts.

He was brought in to compete with Drew Butler, who has struggled with inconsistency this season and in last Sunday’s win over Washington had one punt go just 28 yards, but even if Wile is a superior kicker, that does not mean the job will be his going forward.

“He never held, so we’ll start working with him as a holder and see what he can do, see if he can get in the mix,” Arians said.

For all of Butler’s struggles, Cardinals coaches have maintained he does a lot of things that do not necessarily show up on the box score or during the game. A strength of his is apparently holding for kicker Chandler Catanzaro, and the last thing the Cardinals want to do is have a problem with a hold hurt them during a big kick.

Arians, who said the team will not have two punters active in a game, said it’s not easy to just teach someone the job.

“There is a knack to it,” he said. “You have to learn how to spin the laces. First of all, you have to have good hands, soft hands, and then you have to be able to spin the laces and make sure the angle of the ball is exactly right every time.”

Can Wile figure it out in time for the Cardinals to feel comfortable with him Sunday in Miami? He will be getting a crash course in holding the rest of the week, though Arians did not sound optimistic that a player could learn how to hold in just a few days.

“If he’s done it. Now if he hasn’t done it, it’s going to be real hard to do,” the coach said. “(Ryan) Quigley came in and he had done it. Chandler was very comfortable with what he had to do.”

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Dealing Cards: As players around him have improved, so too has Carson Palmer