Against the Cowboys, the Cardinals shouldn’t have even been in a third down situation at one point. Quarterback Carson Palmer found Michael Floyd about eight yards downfield on a pass and it looked like Floyd just had to turn upfield and he’d get the two remaining yards needed for a first. Instead he ran back a few yards, and then he fumbled, forcing the Cards into a third down. No matter. Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 20-yard gain the next play.
The Cardinals’ offense hasn’t been as consistent as Bruce Arians would like, but one area the quarterback has excelled within is third-down passing. The Cardinals converted 9 of 15 third downs in Dallas, and Palmer’s improvement on third downs is Exhibit A why. Palmer currently is the highest rated quarterback on third downs this season, with a passer rating of 129.5, well above that of No. 2 Tony Romo at 122.5. (Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers round out the top five.)
Palmer — who has missed three of the Cards’ eight games with his shoulder problem — has completed 42-of-64 third-down passes for 609 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception.
It’s those last two stats that capture the most attention, and underscore the improvement Palmer has made since last season. In 2013, playing every snap for the Cards, Palmer ended up only 29th in the league in third-down passing, with a passer rating of 77.1. He completed 94-of-163 passes for 1,233 yards, but the other numbers are notable. Last year, Palmer only threw nine touchdowns on third down in 16 games. He also threw nine interceptions.
Obviously, with half a season to go, Palmer can’t afford to slide backward, but he’s been excellent up until this point. The Cardinals were four-of-four in the red zone against the Cowboys, and all four touchdowns came on third down plays. Three were Palmer touchdown passes — only the second time Palmer has thrown three TD passes in a game since coming to Arizona. And his pair of second-quarter TDs showed both sides of Palmer’s abilities on third down.
On a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson, the Cowboys only rushed three and Palmer calmly waited in the pocket until Carlson was able to find a void in the zone coverage. On a 11-yard TD to Jaron Brown, a four-man rush pushed the pocket but Palmer rifled the ball to Brown in between three defenders on a perfectly timed throw. In was third-and-long for both (six needed on the Carlson play, 10 on the Brown play). Palmer made it happen. It’s the kind of third-down production that teams need to win.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Jaron Brown, John Carlson, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd
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