The statistics show Carson Palmer -- and the Cardinals -- are so much better when Palmer is kept clean in the pocket.
Late in the season, Carson Palmer was talking about the punishment he had absorbed over the season when he dropped back to pass.
The quarterback was hit much more this year than he had in 2015, among the most in the NFL. He was sacked 40 times, after being sacked only 25 times the year before.
Yet he shrugged off the effects.
"As far as being the third-most hit quarterback," Palmer said, "I don't feel that."
The Cardinals, however, did.
Palmer's abilities have always come with a warning label – you must keep him protected. That's true for any quarterback, but it's emphasized with Palmer and his relative lack of mobility. Palmer has improved just since he arrived in Arizona in maneuvering within the pocket, but that can only help so much.
The numbers are stark. In games where Palmer was sacked two times or fewer, the Cardinals went 6-2. In games where he was sacked three times or more – acknowledging that falling behind means more pass attempts, and more chances to be sacked – the Cardinals were 0-6-1.
Palmer's passing stats mirrored the win-loss output. In his seven three-sacks-or-more games, Palmer had only 10 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 77.0. In the eight games of two-sacks-or-less, Palmer had 16 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a passer rating of 96.7.
It tracks back to an offensive line that was in flux much of the season. Injuries torpedoed that unit, something that Pro Football Focus even acknowledged in its season-end line rankings. The Cards were PFF's ninth-ranked offensive line in 2015. This season, they were 26th.
The Cardinals allowed 127 quarterback hits, according to NFL.com, third-most in the NFL. Only the Colts (128) and the
Browns (140) allowed more. The Cards were tied for seventh-most sacks allowed, with 41 total.
As the injuries mounted on the line late in the season, the Cards and coach Bruce Arians adjusted the offense to take into account the pressure.
"It's something you definitely focus on, getting the ball out quick -- or maybe not getting it out quick, but not holding it through your third and fourth reads," Palmer said late in the season.
The shots Palmer took this season led some to wonder if he could retire. But every indication from Palmer has been that he plans to play in 2017, and the idea is that the Cards will continue to work on building the offensive line.
They are set at tackle for now with D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer – although we will see who plays right and who plays left – and the hope is that guard Mike Iupati can return to play at his 2015 Pro Bowl level. There is uncertainty at center – A.Q. Shipley is a free agent, and 2016 fourth-round pick Evan Boehm will make a play for the job – and right guard.
In the meantime, Palmer showed late in the season he was still an effective quarterback – as long as he was kept clean.
"He's tough as nails," Arians said. "You see guys get happy feet when they get hit, but he's rock solid in that regard."