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For Larry Fitzgerald, Success About Options

Posted Mar 26, 2015

Arians says receiver started clicking with Carson Palmer as route decision-making meshed

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and quarterback Carson Palmer were just beginning to click last season when Palmer went down with his knee injury.

Larry Fitzgerald’s statistics haven’t been what he or the Cardinals would like the past couple of seasons, which was somewhat of a surprise once Carson Palmer arrived as quarterback.

At one point early last season, coach Bruce Arians even stressed that targeting a particular player were “interceptions waiting to happen” and Palmer acknowledged some of his 2013 interceptions were attempts to get Fitzgerald the ball.

But that morphed in 2014, after Palmer returned from nerve issues in his shoulder and Fitzgerald’s production jumped. It held true until Palmer was lost for the season after tearing his ACL. Arians said the reason was simple: The two men finally were on the same page.

“Carson had enough now where he understood (the offense) and Larry started to play very well inside,” Arians said. “(Fitzgerald’s) inside play improved and there was a nice trust factor. Larry struggled early when we gave him two- or three-way options. He plays faster when he had one option.

“You have to play almost as fast with a few options. He has progressed so much, I don’t think there is any doubt they can go down on an option route and Carson will know where he is going and the ball is on time.”

Arians’ explanation fits with Fitzgerald’s struggles in the offense, especially in 2013. Injuries have not helped either, with Fitzgerald battling hamstring problems in 2013 and knee issues in 2014. But after that bumpy first year with Palmer and Arians and then a slow start in 2014 with Palmer’s shoulder jacked up, the two found a groove.

In Palmer’s first game back – Week 6 against Washington -- Fitzgerald had six catches for 98 yards. While Fitzgerald only went 4-for-21 in Oakland, the wideout then had seven receptions for 160 yards against Philadelphia, five catches for 70 yards against Dallas and then nine catches for 112 yards against St. Louis – the game during which Palmer had his season end. All nine of Fitzgerald’s receptions in that game were passes from Palmer.

Even after low numbers in the first four games of the season, that stretch put Fitzgerald on pace for a 1,000-yard season.

But Palmer was out and Fitzgerald got hurt himself, damaging his knee again. The cavalcade of Cardinals quarterbacks in the final two months didn’t help either, although Arians said Fitzgerald was excellent in the Cardinals’ playoff game as the receiver continued to work at his new position.

“He’s a true mismatch inside,” Arians said.

Fitzgerald re-did his contract this offseason, locking him up for at least two more years and presumably a fruitful partnership with Palmer – assuming both are healthy. The quarterback and the receiver thinking the same way on option routes goes a long way in promoting that belief.

“You have to press the envelope (with Fitzgerald),” said Arians, who knew Fitzgerald preferred to have one option when Arians first arrived. “You also have to know if you ask him to do too much. If he’s playing slow, I’m asking him to do too much. You’ve got to put him in a position to play fast. That’s my job.”

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