2014 position analysis: Cardinals’ quarterbacks
In the first part of 2014 positional analysis, we look at quarterbacks. The Cardinals played with four different quarterbacks in 2014. I’m breaking down all four and giving some thoughts on the overall position last season
The quarterback position has become undoubtedly the most important in football. Average ones still make big money, young ones always get drafted high. It usually takes a pretty good player under center to field a winning team, and it usually takes an elite player to win a Super Bowl.
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The Cardinals’ 2014 season trajectory illustrated that in some ways, but disproved it in others. Despite playing four quarterbacks, the Cardinal’s held the best record in the NFC for over half the season, and still managed an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. That said, the struggles along the way did show how far a team can fall when their starter (and backup for that matter) are lost to injury.
It’s no secret that Arizona suffered from some bad luck with their quarterbacks last season, bad luck which eventually turned a triumphant rise to fringe contention into a deflating reflection about what could have been. The good signs are worth mentioning however, because the ability for a healthy roster to pick up where they left off is still there. If that’s going to happen, it’s going to hinge on their #1 guy coming back in good shape. Here’s a look at the Cardinals’ quarterbacks in 2014
Nov 9, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer reacts as he is taken off the field on a cart after suffering an injury in the second half against the St. Louis Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Rams 31-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Stats: 6 games| 142-224 (63.4 percent)|1629 yards|11 touchdowns|3 interceptions| 96.0 rating
November 9, 2014 can be pointed to as the worst day of the Cardinals’ season. Carson Palmer’s first season as a Cardinal was somewhere between decent and mediocre, but in 2014, he emerged as a leader whose contributions sent the ceiling of the team to new heights.
How did the football gods respond to the quicker-than-expected rise of a traditionally bad and unnoticed team? By having Palmer tear his ACL on a non-contact play in Week 10, of course. It was the imperfect storm that ended a solid season for Palmer.
Examining Palmer in 2014 is really based on perception, because making legitimate 2013 and 2014 comparisons is difficult due to how much less he played last season. Three interceptions in six games is impressive, especially after throwing 22 in 2013, bu there’s no telling what may have happened had he played the whole year out.
So what does the eye test and more advanced stats say about Palmer? Mostly good things. At mid-season, Pro Football Focus had Palmer rated as their thirteenth best quarterback , better than any other in the NFC West. The theoretical scheme fit between Palmer and head coach Bruce Arians began to take shape. Per PFF, Palmer had a positive passing grade in deep passes in all three directions (left, center, right).
Palmer also did much better at spreading the ball and not relying too much on Larry Fitzgerald as his lone target. Fitzgerald was targeted 135 times in 2013, but only 103 times in 2014. The added receiving talent helped Palmer limited forcing the ball and committing turnovers.
Of all the unexpected changes Palmer made, the finding of his new legs was the most surprising. In Week 1 against the Chargers Palmer rushed for 29 yards, a greater number than his total in four of his seasons. He continued that trend as time went, rushing forward less, but using his legs to extend plays and avoid sacks. From a 34-year-old player, that kind of development is an anomaly.
Whether Palmer can return to full form from his most recent injury remains to be seen. The NFL has seen some seasoned veterans careers collapse after major injuries, but they’ve also seen some come back just like new. The Cardinals must hope he becomes an example of the latter, because his 2015 salary became guaranteed on February 6th. If he can come back with the same swagger and skill he showed in 2014, the Cardinals become far more dangerous.
Dec 11, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) is helped off the field by trainers after being sacked during the third quarter of a football game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports
Stats: 9 games| 132-240 (55.0 percent)|1711 yards|7 touchdowns|5 interceptions| 78.7 rating
The fact that the feature picture of both the starting and backup quarterback are of their injury should tell you all you need to know about the situation. On December 11, Drew Stanton sprained his ACL against the Rams (yes, the same team against whom Palmer went down).
Before that injury, Drew Stanton was a very mixed bag for Arizona. After he lead the Cards wins in Week 2 and 3 while Palmer recovered from a nerve issue, people began to gin up a bit of a quarterback controversy. Adam Schein of NFL.com argued that “Drew Stanton gives the Arizona Cardinals the best chance to win because he doesn’t give the ball to the opposing team.” At that time, he was right. Stanton won his first two starts with Arizona turnover-free.
I was always very inconsistent on Stanton. After his first win against the Giants in Week 2, I argued that Stanton mechanics, not his comfort level, would restrict his ability to keep the Cardinal’s winning. His second start was a good showing, and then he was returned to the bench with Palmer healthy. The trouble started in his second stint after Week 9. After an impressive first quarter against the Lions, the Stanton-led offense went ten quarters over three games without an offensive touchdown.
Stanton’s familiarity with Bruce Arians and the system helped him maintain as a stopgap for Arizona. He looked comfortable with his teammates. That being the case, he also has some frustrating aspects to his game that came out when he became the long-term starter. Chief among those shortcomings is that he stares down receivers too much.
Still, Stanton does deserve credit for preventing the complete collapse of Arizona after Palmer went down. A backup quarterback who can make two or three big plays and limit his turnovers for half a season can mean a lot, and it did for the Cardinals.
How Stanton recovers from his ACL damage will also be interesting. Will he remain the staple backup, or will he be moved in favor of someone else? That will be determined in the coming months. Either way, Drew Stanton’s extended playing time in 2014 was somewhere between good and bad.
Jan 3, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley (14) warms up before the 2014 NFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Stats: 4 games| 61-121 (50.4 percent)| 663 yards|3 touchdowns|6 interceptions| 54.5 rating
Ryan Lindley comes off as a really nice guy, and I really want to be nice back. The fact of the matter, however, is that Ryan Lindley is a really terrible quarterback.
Going into the final two games of the regular season, Ryan Lindley was thrown back into Arizona’s starting spot. After being released in the 2014 offseason, Lindley signed with the Chargers practice squad. After the Palmer injury, Arizona opted to bring him back.
Josh Weinfuss of ESPN did a great job explaining how bad the Cardinals’ situation looked with him under center before the Week 16 game in Seattle.
"“Lindley enters the game with 181 pass attempts without a touchdown, the most in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. For a team that’s scored two touchdowns in its past four games, that’s not the news Arizona wants to hear. The Seahawks have allowed just two passing touchdowns and intercepted four passes in their past five games — which included Arizona in Week 12.Since 2012, Lindley has the worst completion percentage (51.4), fewest yards per attempt (4.3), least amount of touchdowns (0) and lowest total QBR (9.1) among 60 quarterbacks with a minimum of 150 pass attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information”“Lindley enters the game with 181 pass attempts without a touchdown, the most in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. For a team that’s scored two touchdowns in its past four games, that’s not the news Arizona wants to hear. The Seahawks have allowed just two passing touchdowns and intercepted four passes in their past five games — which included Arizona in Week 12.Since 2012, Lindley has the worst completion percentage (51.4), fewest yards per attempt (4.3), least amount of touchdowns (0) and lowest total QBR (9.1) among 60 quarterbacks with a minimum of 150 pass attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information”"
Lindley would eventually throw his first TD on his 229th pass attempt against the 49ers, but wold still throw three interceptions and cost Arizona a win. Sadly, the trouble didn’t stop there. As Arizona limped into the playoffs, Lindley and co. had only 77 yards of offensive in Arizona’s wildcard game, the lowest in NFL postseason history
I won’t pick on Lindley too much. The situation just entirely fell apart, and it’s clear after two stints that he doesn’t have the skills to be a legitimate NFL quarterback.
Dec 21, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Logan Thomas (6) warms up on the sidelines against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Seahawks defeated the Cardinals 35-6. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
I won’t bother with Thomas’ stats because he took 11 snaps all season, but he did play, and he did show something.
After Drew Stanton was diagnosed with a concussion in Week 5, Thomas had to step in and play. He threw a lucky touchdown pass and did little else. Maybe he’ll make it one day, but for now, he’s what the Cardinals thought he was. He is a project with some potential, but a lot of work needed to harness it.
The quarterback position in 2014 went from solved and stable back to complete joke, much to the chagrin of everyone in Arizona. Injuries plagued this position as they did for the Cardinals in general. How injury recoveries play out this offseason will be a determining factor in whether the red birds fly or fall in 2015.