Quarterback Carson Palmer has been spreading the ball to several different targets this season
During Carson Palmer's prime years, success centered on his ability to connect with two star receivers.
Plan A was to throw the ball to Chad Johnson. Plan B was to throw to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. There was usually no Plan C.
Palmer enjoyed the best year of his career in 2005, when the Bengals went 11-5 as he passed for 3,836 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, completed 67.8 percent of his passes and eclipsed a 100 quarterback rating. Johnson had 1,432 receiving yards with nine touchdowns that year and Houshmandzadeh added
956 yards and seven scores. No one else on the team averaged more than 30 receiving yards per game.
The formula stayed the same for several seasons. While the winning ebbed and flowed, those two playmakers regularly sat at or over 1,000 yards receiving while no one else on the team approached their zip code.
Nearly a decade later, Palmer is enjoying a throwback campaign, but doing so in a completely different style. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is the only player on pace to surpass 1,000 yards, but Michael Floyd, John Brown and Andre Ellington are all on their way to more than 600 yards receiving.
"Totally different mindset, totally different system," Palmer said. "There are systems that are built around certain players and built to get the ball to this guy in these six coverages. In this system, versus this coverage the ball is built to one guy, versus that coverage it is supposed to go to another guy. Philosophically, completely different styles of play. I enjoy this one, but I enjoyed that offense too. Just two totally different philosophies." Fitzgerald has led the team in receiving four times, Floyd twice and Ellington twice. Those three and Brown have each eclipsed 100 yards receiving at least once this year.
Tight end John Carlson, wide receiver Jaron Brown and wide receiver Ted Ginn got in on the act in Sunday's 28-17 win over the Cowboys. Carlson and Brown each caught touchdowns while Ginn hauled in a key 27-yard fourth-quarter reception to set up an Ellington score, tapping both feet before falling out of bounds.
"It's not an offense which is meant to go to one particular player," Jaron Brown said. "It's more the coverage. I was able to get me one (score) so I was happy with it."
Palmer is 5-0 in starts this season and is within a whisker of setting a career-best passer rating. While there are still plenty of teams which make it a point to find their star receiver many times in a game, the Cardinals aren't one of them.
"You can find examples like Megatron (Calvin Johnson) with the Lions," Carlson said. "They really feed him the ball. We don't have to do that."
OFFENSE AGAIN PLAGUED BY DROPS
Palmer's numbers are impressive this year, but could be better if not for some dropped passes by his receivers. Coach Bruce Arians said if it was just one guy, it would be an easy solution to just yank him from the lineup. The drops have instead been spread around, and because they don't show up much in practice, Arians
is hoping it doesn't linger.
"Catch the ball," Arians said. "Real simple. Just catch the ball. We dropped five balls again that cost us. It's been critical now for three weeks. The drops were amazing sometimes. John Brown finally looked like a damn rookie on the in route where he was too far over the middle and drops it. Overall, they're easily correctable."
Carlson, who made play after play during training camp to entrench himself as the starter, had three drops against Dallas, including one in the end zone and another which could have been a score on a screen pass. He's normally one of the more sure-handed players on the team and was at a loss for what happened.
"I don't know," Carlson said. "Obviously I'm trying to catch the ball. It's not intentioned or (lack of) mental preparation. That's our job to make plays when the ball comes our way, and I didn't do that well enough on Sunday."
Palmer isn't too worried.
"That's part of the game," he said. "Footballs get dropped, passes get missed, blocks get missed, tackles get missed. Not concerned at all.
MASSIE SITS WITH MINOR ANKLE, KNEE INJURIES
Right tackle Bobby Massie missed practice after spraining his ankle and knee against the Cowboys but is expected to play on Sunday. The Cardinals haven't had an offensive lineman miss a game this year.
"I just got rolled up on," Massie said. "I'm not worried about it. Go to treatment, rehab and get back on the field."
Running back Stepfan Taylor (calf), linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (knee) and linebacker Marcus Benard (illness) also sat out. Taylor is doubtful to play against the Rams but Alexander could return to practice Thursday, Arians said. Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was limited.
For St. Louis, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe), cornerback E.J. Gaines (knee), tight end Cory Harkey (knee), defensive end William Hayes (fibula), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (knee), safety Rodney McLeod (knee) and cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) did not practice. Safety Cody Davis (concussion) was limited.
COWBOYS GAME GETS RECORD VIEWERSHIP
Sunday's win over the Cowboys was the most-watched road game in Cardinals history. It was seen in 519,000 Valley homes, generating a 28.3 rating and a 53 share. The totals through the first eight games are the best in franchise history and reflect a 35 percent jump in viewership from this point last year, tops in the NFL.