Unfortunately, quarterback Carson Palmer tore his knee for the second time in his career. Years ago with the Cincinnati Bengals, Palmer got hurt 10 days after signing an extension. This time around, he goes down just a couple days after signing an extension with the Arizona Cardinals. Palmer took care of the ball and worked hand-in-hand with Arians impressively. His future may be in question, as contracts mean little beyond guaranteed money, but the fact that he’s 34 years old should have very little impact in this equation. Quarterbacks are protected more than any other player, and some have the ability to play into their late 30s. If Palmer can handle the mental part of the process again, then he’ll get a shot to play again as long as his knee can recover and hold up.
The Cardinals have been a phenomenal 8-1 in arguably, the toughest division in football. Right now they have a 2-game lead over the defending champs, the Seattle Seahawks. Backup Drew Stanton started a couple games this season, as Palmer was sidelined with a shoulder injury to start the season. Simply put, losing the veteran gunslinger has numbered the games that the Super Bowl hopefuls will play in 2014. I don’t buy the team as a whole, despite how great coach Bruce Arians and his staff has been, to overcome this big of a loss the rest of the way.
The defense just got a boost when Calias Campbell returned. The All-Pro D-lineman has instantly made an impact since returning from injury. They have had to make due without star linebacker, Darryl Washington, who is suspended for a year. Patrick Peterson shook off a rough start to play at a high level again, forming quite the tandem with Antonio Cromartie. With Tyrann Mathieu looking noticeably healthier, there’s a reason the Cards have allowed the 4th fewest points.
The thing that wears and tears, is not having an offense that can put points on the scoreboard. The anomalies would be the Baltimore Ravens winning the big game with Trent Dilfer, or the Chicago Bears reaching the S.B. with Rex Gossman. Those were hands down, each team’s starting quarterback at the time.
Stanton has been around the league backup up Palmer, and previously, Matthew Stafford. He has a big arm, so they’ll continue to run the offense as they have all season long. I believe he can manage a game, I just don’t think he can stay turnover free. Now teams are going to stack up to stop Andre Ellington, which could eventually result in his foot injury getting worse. The trio of receivers present different abilities and have been great in their roles: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown.
More problems for the defense could arise when the offense is struggling. A defense can only hold up for so long, and keep you in games for so long. Even if a defense bends, it’s only a matter of time before it breaks without an offense capable of scoring, kind of like run support for a pitcher in baseball. To begin with, the Cardinals were in the middle of the pack in terms of scoring, and in the bottom third in yards. They’ve been playing complete team football, relying on timely plays from the offense and timely turnovers from the D. Opponents take more risks and do different things against the backup QB, similar to what a class tries to pull off with a substitute teacher.
We’re going to see right away against playoff picture teams, the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks, if the Cards can weather the storm. A storm that will be in the forecast for the rest of their games. I wasn’t sold on their offense with Palmer under center, let alone with Stanton filling in. Following those games, they travel to Atlanta, who is struggling but plays better at their home dome. Then they play another playoff caliber team in the Kansas City Chiefs, before finishing the season with three division games: St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers.
Arizona leads Detroit by a game for the top seed in the NFC with seven weeks to go. They’ll have a 1-2 game lead on the Philadelphia Eagles, depending on Monday Night Football’s result against the Carolina Panthers. Dallas trails by a game and a half. In the NFC West, they have a 2-game edge on the Hawks and three over the Niners. The season is just past the midway point with a lot of games remaining, and these teams believe they can pounce on the undermanned Cardinals. If they still make the postseason, Coach Arians will certainly be a finalist to win another Coach of the Year award. I’ll put my money on the field, assuming that if the Cards make the postseason, it will come from their hot start with them backing into the playoffs as a wildcard seed at best.