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Offense For The Long Haul

Posted Nov 25, 2013

The path has been bumpy, but Cardinals finally starting to click

With a clean pocket, quarterback Carson Palmer delivers a pass during Sunday's win over the Colts .

In the days of 100-degree heat, no pads and shorts, quarterback Carson Palmer preached about an offense that was a work in progress. In training camp, as the season drew closer, the message stayed the same.

After a while, though, the Cardinals needed more. Bruce Arians needed more. Even as he understood it might not be fair – given the amount to digest and the steep learning curve – to expect more.

“(The players) would probably say no, as far as the meeting rooms as loud as it can get sometimes, but you have to (stay patient),” Arians said. “I knew it would happen sooner or later. I would have liked for it to have happened sooner, but we are beginning to understand what we are trying to accomplish.”

In the big picture, what the Cardinals wanted to be offensively isn’t hard to figure out, nor out of the ordinary. A passing game that could eat up “chunks.” A running game that didn’t have to be prolific but at least consistent and force single coverage to either a Larry Fitzgerald or, more likely, a Michael Floyd. It was a unit that, in a perfect world, could create a point per minute of possession time.

Sunday against the Colts, the Cardinals’ offense was all of those things.

Palmer had eight completions of at least 19 yards. Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington combined to rush for 104 yards on 23 carries. Fitzgerald caught a pair of touchdowns while Floyd had 104 yards and caught each of the seven passes thrown his way. The Cardinals scored 40 points, while holding the ball for just under 37 minutes. The Cards even drew a pair of downfield pass interference calls – totaling 44 yards – that Arians called the “hidden yardage” that benefits.

The offense is becoming closer to Arians’ vision when Palmer was acquired and he first started putting the pieces together.

“(Bruce) knew what we’d need for the long run,” Palmer said. “He had a vision for the whole season the whole process of it. He didn’t change his ways, he didn’t give up, he didn’t say, ‘I’m going to make it real simple.’ He knows what a team needs to be successful to make a legitimate run. Not just be good but make a legitimate run. He knew we’d need the entire thing. He hasn’t eased up on us.”

That isn’t going to change. Arians couldn’t talk about the offensive strides or the 40-point game without shaking his head about the points the Cardinals didn’t score. A Mendenhall touchdown run was called back on a hold by tight end Jim Dray, and Arians said if Dray had just let go a moment sooner, his opponent still wouldn’t have been able to catch Mendenhall.

Palmer had what looked like a touchdown pass to Andre Roberts go awry when it was thrown a bit behind Roberts, allowing the ball to be deflected away.

“We left more points out there than we should have,” Arians said.

It sounds greedy after a 29-point win. But Arians knows there will be close games when the Cardinals would lament such near misses – and that doesn’t even include the blocked 28-yard field goal that Arians said was on multiple players. It’s a notion his players don’t dispute, even if improvement is evident.

“There’s been games where we know we should be moving the ball more and then there’s been the frustrations with kicking field goals and not scoring touchdowns,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “We are still at that point, but I feel like we’ve gotten a lot better.”

In his opening remarks to the media after Sunday’s game, Arians stressed that the only statistics he cared about any longer was victories, no matter how the Cardinals got them the rest of the way.

Yet it would have been difficult to gain the wins the Cards already do have if it wasn’t for the numbers the offense has finally been able to achieve. The Cardinals, and their solid defense, learned that lesson a season ago.

“When you come and install a brand-new offense with brand-new coaches and new players in the offseason, there is no rule or law that you’re going to have it at ‘this’ point or have it ‘this’ week,” Palmer said. “You’d like to have it by midway through training camp but that’s not realistic.

“It took us longer than we wanted, but we’re starting to really get that trust.”

EXTRA POINTS

Arians said the Cardinals came out of the game healthy, other than some bumps and bruises that will not cost any player any significant practice time. …

Arians said he saw the same fresh burst from the veteran Mendenhall as many other observers. “This is the Rashard Mendenhall I know,” Arians said. “He was this way in training camp before the injuries.” Mendenhall has dealt with knee and toe problems this season. …

Arians was asked about traveling east for the big game against the Eagles this coming weekend. The Cardinals will leave for the game on Friday afternoon.

“It should be old hat, other than the snow,” Arians said with a grin. “I know we’re not going to Florida again. I saw those games (this weekend) where everybody was bundled up and said, ‘Damn, I’ve got to do that again?’ I’ve had enough of that for 10 years.”

The weather forecast for Philadelphia Sunday is going to be chilly but not terribly cold – high of 49 degrees, low of 36 – and little chance of precipitation while the Cardinals are in town.

 

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