Palmer-to-Fitzgerald can take the Cardinals far

The numbers show Arizona has one of the league's most dangerous passing combinations.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Palmer-to-Fitzgerald can take the Cardinals far

We’re finally starting to see what we were supposed to three seasons ago in the desert — Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald with both players in an exceptional vein of form.

Fitzgerald is sitting at number three in PFF’s grading for wide outs — a position he hasn’t surpassed since 2011 when he trailed only Calvin Johnson overall. Palmer for his part is PFF’s No. 3 quarterback through three games, trailing only Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady.

Palmer-to-Fitzgerald suddenly looks like one of the league’s most potent passing combinations less than a year after it looked like at least one of the two might be close to done at this level.

Last season Fitzgerald spent 48.6 percent of his snaps in the slot, with another 36 snaps coming actually lined up as a tight end, and it seemed like a desperate attempt to scheme a role for him where he could still catch some balls, because he couldn’t get it done outside anymore. This year the number has actually gone up slightly, with 51.1 percent of his snaps through three games coming inside (and another five lined up at TE), but it doesn’t seem like a schematic trick anymore, because it’s working.

Fitzgerald has caught 82.1 percent of the balls thrown his way, notching 333 yards and five scores. He has shown the kind of toughness that he has been known for throughout his career, and he’s become a legitimate slot weapon. One of his two scores against the 49ers involved getting blasted in the end zone as he caught the ball, holding on to complete the reception as if it wasn’t any big deal.

Fitzgerald has actually caught 100 percent of the balls thrown his way when he has lined up in the slot this season and he’s targeted almost twice as often in the slot as when he lines up outside. Maybe Fitzgerald can’t get it done the way he could in years past as a wide out, but in the slot he’s discovered how to unleash a new lease on his career.

Palmer seems to have embraced this new inside safety blanket and combined it with the vertical offense the Cardinals have to craft a dangerous and balanced passing attack. Only Blake Bortles has taken a deep shot (20+ air yards) more often than Palmer this season — and he’s actually been more successful when he does so — but Palmer has managed to be successful at every level.

Palmer’s passer rating remains above 100 in every facet of his play this season, whether it is with no pressure, against the blitz, against no blitz or when the heat is applied.

The Seahawks are stumbling to open up the season despite throttling the Bears this week and the Cardinals have a real chance to take control of the division. Palmer-to-Fitzgerald has made a big impact on their passing game, but the running game still needs to see a reversal in the playing time that has seen Chris Johnson carry the ball 52 times and David Johnson just 12.

The Cardinals may have the best team in the NFC West right now, and if Palmer stays healthy, they could be legit contenders.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    How can you not love Larry Fitzgerald? This guy comes to play!

  • Chris B

    What do you mean by this?
    “but the running game still needs to see a reversal in the playing time that has seen Chris Johnson carry the ball 52 times and David Johnson just 12.”

    Is it that you want David Johnson to get it more?

    • Malachi

      yes, they like johnson

      • ajginn

        This is why analytics people are not coaches. There’s no accounting for things like picking up blitzes, something that a rookie RB is going to have trouble with. Pass protection is key in the Cardinals’ offensive scheme and David Johnson is not yet ready to handle it.

        • Malachi

          didn’t know we had coach mitchell here in the comment threads, thx for the insight, coach

  • Sum_Fool

    Fitz is all class.Great ambassador for the NFL.