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Cardinals’ Fate Could Rest On Offensive Line

Posted Sep 22, 2017

Quarterback Carson Palmer gets the blame, but protection has been subpar in first two games

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer found a rhythm when he had a clean pocket against the Colts.

There are plenty of culprits in the Cardinals’ poor offensive start to 2017.

Quarterback Carson Palmer has been underwhelming. Injuries have shelved star running back David Johnson and explosive wideout John Brown. Turnovers and red zone struggles have hindered the output even when the offense has found a rhythm.

But the offensive line is pointing the finger at only one place.

“We take a lot of responsibility for how our offense works, if the production comes for us,” right tackle Jared Veldheer said. “We have to give Carson time and we have to open up lanes for the running backs to be successful. We’re conscious of that.”

After Palmer was sacked at a career-high rate in 2016, the Cardinals felt like there would be better line play this season. Through two games, that hasn’t been the case. Palmer has been sacked five times and the running game is only averaging 3.0 yards per carry.

The Cowboys come to town on Monday night with arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. For the outcome to go the Cardinals’ way, their group doesn’t have to be Dallas-like, but it must be much-improved.

“One thing we pride ourselves on is protecting Carson, not letting Carson get hit,” right guard Evan Boehm said. “He’s gotten hit way too much the last two games, and we know that.”

The Cardinals are unlikely to have D.J. Humphries at left tackle as he continues to recover from a knee sprain, but that wasn’t the issue on Sunday, as his replacement, John Wetzel, played well. Instead, it was Boehm and Veldheer who struggled.

“I’m not (satisfied), and they know it,” offensive coordinator and line coach Harold Goodwin said. “I’ve tried a new approach. I’m not screaming as much. Not as many curse words. But they’ve got to step up. And Jared knows it. Jared’s been playing right tackle enough that being over there should not be an issue any more. “

Veldheer a long-time left tackle, said he’s still scaling the learning curve.

“Every time you go out there, there’s just so much more to learn than when I was on the other side,” Veldheer said. “You become aware of something that carried over, it doesn’t work because it’s on the (right). One of those things is where I was putting my weight. Seeing that, I can focus on doing that, just basically learning.

“It’s humbling. It’s very humbling and challenging. But at the same time, that stimulates me. It lets you go out there and have some stuff to work on. It’s a challenge every day.”

The position switch is the obvious explanation for Veldheer’s slow start, but there also has been criticism that he’s not mentally tuned in. Veldheer took a day off during training camp to ponder retirement before returning to the team.

When asked about his teammate’s commitment, Boehm interjects before the question is finished.

“He’s in it,” Boehm said. “If he wasn’t in it, he wouldn’t be here. That’s the thing with this job. You have to be in, or you’re out. There’s no in between. Stuff happens in people’s lives where a lot of outsiders don’t know what happens. And I don’t even know what happened. But I respect Jared for what he did. I respect Jared for what happened. I’m glad to have Jared back. I’m glad to have Jared right beside me, being in the middle of A.Q. (Shipley) and Jared. He’s a hell of a ballplayer.”

Veldheer said he’s not bothered by those who question his dedication.

“You can’t control what someone is going to say or think,” Veldheer said. “You can only control your work ethic and your attitude. These guys know I’m all in and here giving it everything. That doesn’t faze me, really.”

The questions buzzing around Veldheer and the rest of the line can be quieted with a good performance against Dallas. The Cardinals finally get to play at home, where life is much easier on linemen. On the road, crowd noise can drown out instructions from Palmer, which forces the linemen to pass the message along one by one.

“It’s kind of like the game of telephone,” Boehm said.

Palmer was sacked 16 times in eight home games last season, compared to 24 in seven starts on the road. If the Cardinals can keep him clean, they will have a chance at the upset.

“Everything starts up front,” coach Bruce Arians said. “That will never change."

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