CIN-ARI Grades: Palmer rebounds from early miscues
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Cardinals’ 34-31 victory over the Bengals:
– After a remarkable display of downfield passing against the Seahawks a week ago, this looked like a letdown game for Carson Palmer (+1.5) early on, but he rebounded in style, rediscovering some of his best form of the season. Palmer brought a new wide receiver into the fold this week to tie the game up just after halftime, with another pinpoint deep ball to rookie J.J. Nelson (+1.4) for a 64-yard touchdown, one of three touchdowns aimed 20+ yards downfield by Palmer last night, taking his season total to a league-best of eight.
– Pressure off the edge has been a shortcoming of the Cardinals’ defense in recent seasons, but in Markus Golden (+1.7) they appear to have found a big play threat off the edge to complement their creative blitz packages carrying over from the Todd Bowles era. Golden notched his fourth sack of the season (his first since Week 4), tearing around Bengals’ right tackle Andre Smith (-3.1) for a pivotal sack of Andy Dalton (+1.1) midway through the fourth quarter. This was Golden’s fifth straight game with a positive overall grade.
– An injury to Patrick Peterson (+0.2) brought an untimely end to the sparring between the fourth and fifth overall picks in the 2011 NFL Draft just as the game was reaching its climax. Prior to that, Peterson had been targeted six times against A.J. Green, surrendering two catches for 24 yards with a pass break-up and a penalty for defensive holding. This performance just keeps Peterson’s streak alive, not having earned a single game grade below zero in coverage all season long.
DE Frostee Rucker (+2.6)
DB Tyrann Mathieu (+2.4)
NT Rodney Gunter (+2.3)
WR Larry Fitzgerald (+2.2)
OLB Markus Golden (+1.7)
– There are few tougher blocking assignments in football than Geno Atkins (+7.5) at his very best, and his performance last night was very close to that. After Mike Iupati (-1.1) left the game, he collected a sack against his replacement Earl Watford (-1.7). Atkins was more disruptive than destructive as a pass rusher, but strong work in the run game (two tackles at the line of scrimmage, one for a loss) helped make this Atkins’ highest single-game grade since Week 16 of his spectacular 2012 season.
– Primetime has rarely been kind to Andy Dalton (+1.1), but this was a much better display than we are used to seeing from him in front of a national audience. Dalton was strong as a short and intermediate passer, but his struggles on the deep ball re-emerged in an untimely fashion with only a solitary completion (to open the Bengals’ third drive) on eight targets aimed 20 or more yards downfield, earning a -3.3 PFF passing grade on those throws (+4.4 entering Week 11).
– An early touchdown on Darqueze Dennard (-0.4) might have given Dre Kirkpatrick some respite as pressure mounts on his starting spot, but his performance only opened the door for further discussion as to whether one first-round pick needs to replace another. Kirkpatrick surrendered three catches for 62 yards last night with tackling a problem once again. After missing only one tackle in the last three weeks Kirkpatrick missed two last night, one paving the way for a 36-yard gain on 3rd-and-14 by J.J. Nelson. His total of 13 missed tackles this season trails only the 17 of Steelers’ corner Antwon Blake for the most at his position.
DT Geno Atkins (+7.5)
DE Michael Johnson (+3.3)
RG Kevin Zeitler (+2.9)
WLB Emmanuel Lamur (+2.5)
DE Carlos Dunlap (+1.9)