How Long Can the Cardinals Manage With Drew Stanton in Command?


Sep 14, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) drops back to pass against the New York Giants during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals need their quarterback back.

Carson Palmer, the Cards veteran signal caller, sat out for the Cardinals Week 2 visit to the Giants, which ended in a victory. His status is uncertain due to a nerve issue in his shoulder.  Career-backup Drew Stanton was and is the guy for the moment, and will start this Sunday vs. the 49ers. Nerve issues are tricky, so Palmer could be ready very soon of not for a long time.

The greater question: How long can the Cards win with Stanton leading them?  If Palmer’s out for several weeks, can they beat Denver? Seattle? What’s the Cardinals ceiling given the uncertain status of one of their most critical players?

In his first NFL action since 2010,  Stanton put forth a valiant but unspectacular effort. He was 14-29 with no touchdowns and no interceptions, for a QB rating of 63.3. It got the job done, and he avoided turnovers, which is always a positive. He came out confident, and seemed to be familiar with the playbook and his receivers. Very few of his missed passes were caused by him thinking one thing and his intended target thinking another. That’s a nice quality in a backup; someone who can come out and look like he’s worked with the offense already. That may have something to do with the fact that he was throwing with the first team in the days leading up to Sundays game. Regardless, Stanton’s poise and attitude was admirable. He came out with the intention to play his best football, and looked fairly comfortable in his first start in years.

Ultimately though, that may be part of the problem.

Stanton’s shortcoming stem from his experience and skill shortcoming, not his lack of comfort. He missed relatively easy passes and held the ball far too long. Stanton’s mobility was a focal point by the local broadcasters in the early going, but that mobility completely failed to materialize. He was sacked four times, and while the offensive line didn’t do well, Stanton didn’t play quickly enough to keep up.  The 49ers defense will be far more formidable, and it’s less likely Andre Ellington will have as good a game against an elite group. If Stanton can’t get out of pressure more and make quicker reads, he will be in for a long, long day, and the Cardinals won’t win.

The fundamental point is this: In the next couple of contests the Cards will play in,  they’ll need to have a good passing game. Rushing, defense, and/or pure luck won’t guarantee a win against some of the top teams in football. It can happen, but it’s not something one should put money on happening. The team can’t just avoid mistakes, they have to make positive plays on a consistent basis to compete with San Francisco on Sunday. The Cardinals will need good protection to help provide swift decisions and precise throws. Stanton hasn’t been able to do that yet, and the Cardinals are definitely worse off with him instead of Palmer. I don’t want to be too hard on Stanton. Again, he put forth a respectable effort, but that doesn’t always translate to points and wins.

Arians stated that he was pleased with Stanton’s play in NY, and thinks he can play even better. He may be right, but there’s a reason Stanton has spent his career playing second fiddle: He isn’t as good as the other guy. He’s a fine placeholder who will give his best, but the Cardinals need a healthy Palmer to keep their season rolling.