Carson Palmer has not been this relevant in a long time. Usually when anyone talks about the 35-year old QB, they refer to his early days in Cincinnati when he was a top QB (primarily 2005, where he led the season in TD passes and had an MVP caliber year).
Since the 2005 playoff game against the Steelers, in which Palmer suffered a torn ACL injury on the very first pass attempt (a 66-yard completion), his play has never reached the same heights as 2005. 2006 was another Pro Bowl year but it felt like a step down from 2005.
2014, however, was a comeback year if I’ve ever seen one. Under his command, the Cardinals went 6-0 in games Palmer started, 5-5 in games without, which was still enough to clinch Arizona’s first playoff spot since 2009. When Palmer again tore his ACL (against the Rams), Arizona collapsed in his absence, no longer having a QB capable of helping put points on the board.
Now entering 2015 as the Cardinals starting QB for the 3rd consecutive season, at age 35, Carson Palmer provides the city of Phoenix their old QB fetish. It may not seem like a lot to say that he’s been the team’s best QB since Kurt Warner, but in 2014, he performed at a high level.
What was it about Palmer in 2014? He fit Bruce Arian’s offense perfectly. While not the same athlete he was in his Bengals days, Palmer simply gave his receivers far more chances to make plays than any other Cardinals QB. In other words, Palmer is the classic gunslinger. The arm strength isn’t quite there anymore, but his desire to fire downfield more than not puts Arizona in a position to succeed.
Plus, Palmer was simply a more accurate QB than the rest in 2014. Completion percentage may say that, but Palmer was able to do better at providing his receivers with accurate passes.
At first glance, it seemed like the Cardinals won games no matter what QB they put in. After an 18-17 thriller over the Chargers on Monday Night, an injured Palmer allowed Drew Stanton the chance to start 3 games. He didn’t play bad, allowing the Cardinals to win 2 of their last 3 games to start 3-1. But after Carson went out for the season, it was clear Arizona’s offense was benefitting from his play, as the offensive efficiency rapidly declined.
We need look no further than the below chart for evidence.
There’s plenty of glaring drops in statistical input, but the most glaring is the amount of points per game the Cardinals were scoring, going from 25.8 with Carson Palmer to 15.5 with other QBs. Granted, Palmer only helped put up 10 points in his 6th start (Rams) before Stanton replaced him when he went down with a torn ACL, but even then, the numbers are staggering.
There’s something else we’re missing, however. Take a look at the below chart.
You read the chart correctly. Without Palmer, Arizona went 0-5 when their defense gave up at least 19 points. Compare that to when they had him, in which they went 2-0 in those situations. Fluke or not, CP made the players around him better, or at least had better results than Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley. According to Football Outsiders’ assistant editor Scott Kacsmar, Palmer also had they 3rd highest DVOA on 3rd down passing plays (DVOA is further explained here).
Lastly, though not on pace for a record breaking season, Palmer was on pace for some pretty high numbers (depending on if he played 16 games).
Not too shabby. In these times, those numbers likely earn you a Pro Bowl season. Then again, Andy Dalton made it last year, so it’s not as credible as it once was.
Regardless, the point remains this; Carson Palmer is the Arizona Cardinals’ Most Valuable Player. It should be blatantly obvious considering he plays the most valuable position in the sport (QB), but as it turns out, there’s more to it. With Palmer, the Cardinals had control of their destiny, and even a shot at the NFC West title and a first round bye. With him out, however, Arizona went 3-4 in their last 7 games, barely getting into the playoffs as a 5th seed. With their entire offense unhealthy, they lost the playoff matchup at Carolina 26-17 (and that was a game where Panthers QB Cam Newton did not play sharp in either).
Not many expected Palmer to be this good again, especially considering he came of a 2013 season in which he threw 24 TD passes to 22 interceptions. Something changed. He looked a lot better (RE: more comfortable) in Bruce Arians’ offense, and this was a huge part of their early success. Injuries to slot receiver Michael Floyd, among others, has impacted the Cardinals offseason, but Phoenix should rest assured that a healthy Carson Palmer should be able to make up for that.
After all, this is a guy that had been having the best season of his career since 2005.