Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer launches what turned out to be an incomplete deep pass during last weekend's loss in Buffalo.
Carson Palmer was in the thick of MVP talk. Larry Fitzgerald and John "Smokey" Brown were 1,000-yard receivers. Michael Floyd was piling up 100-yard games.
All those players are still on the roster. The Cardinals still have deep threat J.J. Nelson, reliable Jaron Brown and even an ultra-talented receiver at running back in David Johnson.
To see the team's passing game suffer fits and starts through three games is surprising, to say the least.
"When you get everybody back, you expect to be as good or better," coach Bruce Arians said.
The Cardinals set offensive records last season for points and yards, and most of it was because of their prolific passing game. Palmer had by far his best season in the NFL and some regression was likely. But after a disappointing outing in
Buffalo, the air attack as a whole has been far less than anticipated.
It's not so much the statistics themselves, although at this point, only Fitzgerald is posting numbers with a familiar feel. Instead, it's a lack of cohesion, especially with Palmer and his pass catchers not on the same page.
That can happen, but given that there are no new pieces in the pass game, and that only tight end Jermaine Gresham wasn't around prior to 2015, such troubles are puzzling.
"We've got plenty of work in over the years," said Palmer, who is only completing 57.3 percent of his passes. "We just have to continue to work and get better and improve that timing and rhythm."
Palmer's touchdown-to-interception ratio was excellent through two games – 5-0 – before a four-interception fourth-quarter in Buffalo ruined it. But those picks provided examples of the ways the aerial attack is off-kilter.
On one interception, John Brown misinterpreted a signal, leading him to run an out route instead of a post. The ball went right to a defensive back.
"Good call on his part, poor on my part," Brown said.
On another, Palmer expected Floyd to cut in front of the defensive back in the end zone. When Floyd went behind, it was an easy pick. The two saw the coverage differently, Floyd said, but Palmer "was correct."
"I don't plan on having that mistake again," Floyd added.
The best way to fix the problems, Floyd said, is by doing the homework required. That's something every guy has proven he knows how to do.
"Making sure we are all on the same page … and we see everything the same," Floyd said. "No question is a dumb question."
The Cardinals' vaunted deep game seems to be hurting, after causing so much damage a year ago. One long 50-50 ball to Floyd early in the game looked open, but Palmer left it a little short and Floyd couldn't bring it in.
Interestingly, Palmer's deep numbers are actually slightly better after three games than in the same period in 2015. According to Pro Football Focus, Palmer has completed 5-of-17 passes of at least 20 yards (29.4 percent) this season, stats that were wrecked when he was 1-for-7 in Buffalo (including three interceptions.)
Last season, when the Cards were 3-0, Palmer was 5-of-18 on such throws.
"We forced one to John Brown when we had three guys open underneath, trying to get something started," Arians said. "Again, we have a deep ball in everything we do, but we also have (options at) every level of coverage and it's the quarterback's decision of when to shoot it and when to come down with it."
After the first three games of 2015 (including the postseason) Palmer completed 29-of-78 deep balls, a 37 percent rate.
"It only takes one big play for our offense to get rolling," Floyd said.
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