Wide receiver John Brown blew past his defender for a touchdown catch against the Bengals last weekend.
When does speed kill? On third-and-16.
That's where General Manager Steve Keim saw it, during the Cardinals' preseason opener against Houston. Quarterback Carson Palmer had been sacked to put the team in a bad place, but then rookie John Brown came out on the field, burst from the slot and easily hauled in a 25-yard pass.
The speed the Cardinals have added on offense, Keim said, has created mismatches they simply couldn't generate last season.
"It's changed our offense," Palmer said.
That was the idea, of course. It's a concept the Cardinals and Keim have been chasing since this time last year. It's why Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson played on offense last season and why the team signed Brittan Golden and Teddy Williams – who had
been playing cornerback – to play receiver during the season.
When Ted Ginn reached free agency, he was a major Cardinals target. After Brown impressed all the Cardinals' scouts prior to the draft, Keim was crossing his fingers the Pittsburg State product would last.
"You always love big, strong players, but to me, you never sacrifice speed and athleticism for size and strength," Keim said. "You want fast and athletic and explosive. When we self-evaluated our team, we noticed spots we needed to upgrade in that area and the top spot was obviously receiver."
When Bruce Arians arrived in Arizona, he was open about wanting to take shots down the field a handful of times per game. He wanted to stress the defense.
It never quite worked out that way. Even having Peterson as an option didn't give Arians the flexibility he so desperately sought.
"You can only do what your players can do," Arians said. "You can't ask players to do what they can't do, and that's why there was the need for Patrick to sometimes play offense, just to stretch the field.
"Now we have more than enough. Our team speed has increased dramatically."
Arians, in fact, likes the speed on defense too (although he acknowledged losing linebacker Daryl Washington negatively impacted that facet of the game.) Palmer pointed to Arians' history as an offensive coordinator utilizing speed of guys like T.Y. Hilton, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders over the years as proof of what such speed can create.
It's not all just about the speed. The Cardinals have also upgraded their offensive line so that speed has time to get down the field while Palmer waits in the pocket. The shots deep came often Sunday against the Bengals and should have worked if it wasn't for an off night from Palmer.
There's the rub. The Cardinals still have to execute. Speed alone isn't enough. Keim notes the many years the Raiders spent first-round picks on receivers with blinding speed that never turned into anything because they weren't good football players.
"To play fast you have to be smart and know what you are doing," Arians said. "If you have any hesitation you are going to play slow. If you run 4.2 and you don't know what you're doing, it doesn't help you."
Intelligence isn't what short-circuited the Peterson experience. That had to do with concerns about putting their now-multi-million-dollar cornerback on the field more than necessary. It made sense at the time, because it was a hole in the roster. After Brown and Ginn arrived, it no longer was a hole.
"Of course I loved it," Peterson said. "Being a defensive guy who pretty much played offense his whole life, coming to the NFL and having them say 'OK, you're just a defensive player' kind of sucked. But that's how it goes. It was quite an honor to be called upon every once in a while last year."
Now, Peterson will watch from the sideline as various teammates streak down the field or quick-step away from an overmatched linebacker.
"When you've got a lot of guys that can run and go vertical, that can open it up for a lot of people," Ginn said. "Definitely the run game. Having a guy like me, or any guy with speed, it opens different avenues to the offense."