We see this happen seemingly every season. An NFL team or two that were afterthoughts look invincible in August while the league’s elite resemble absolute rubbish.
The Bill Walsh era San Francisco 49ers were notorious for terrible preseason records year after year, and Tony Dungy’s Indianapolis Colts teams followed through on that noble tradition a generation later. Conversely, we’ll forever remember that the 2008 Detroit Lions followed up a perfect 4-0 exhibition campaign with a historic 0-16 record in the regular season.
So yes, let’s make it perfectly clear: Preseason games are meaningless, except for the injuries.
That being said, have you seen how awful the Arizona Cardinals look out there? My stars.
Actually, the stars would be a good place to start. Larry Fitzgerald has mostly been a spectator in the preseason, and was again over the weekend, out with a bum knee in Arizona’s 34-24 not-as-close-as-the-score-suggests loss to the Texans at NRG Stadium.
Tyrann Mathieu is still working his way back, rehabbing an ACL tear incurred last December. So, those are two more boulders of salt to heave over our shoulders along with the aforementioned August disclaimers. However, that doesn’t excuse the ominous work of Carson Palmer, one of the team’s five name entities, and the one with the biggest responsibility on his shoulders by the nature of his position.
Palmer’s been alarmingly poor this month, there’s just no other way to put it. He threw two interceptions at Houston, including one that was returned for a touchdown by John Simon. The other came on a deflected pass, but his intended receiver looked well-covered. For the preseason he’s completed 12-of-22 passes for 139 yards, with zero touchdowns and three picks,
For the preseason he’s completed 12-of-22 passes for 139 yards, with zero touchdowns and three picks, for a passer rating of 34.2. He should’ve been intercepted in the exhibition opener against the Raiders too, but his wounded duck clanked off a defender’s hands.
Normally we’d be tempted to ignore a disastrous preseason showing from an established veteran quarterback, but our most recent memories of Palmer are the six interceptions he barfed up in two playoff games, four of which came in their blowout loss at Carolina in the NFC Championship Game.
It’s been a fair question whether he could psychologically recover from such a dreadful showing on the biggest stage and the early evidence suggests that he can’t. Just like Jake Delhomme couldn’t a decade ago when the circumstances were reversed in another playoff game between the Cardinals and the Panthers and just like various kickers haven’t (Scott Norwood, anyone?) after big misses.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians ostensibly planned for Palmer to play at least a half against the Texans, but had a change of heart after Palmer took a huge hit courtesy of Houston’s Devon Still in the aftermath of his pick-six. Palmer chipped a tooth on the play but declared himself fine otherwise.
If the quarterback was their only problem it’d be one thing, but on the other side of the ball, Brock Osweiler positively riddled the Cardinals. They did manage three sacks, including Chandler Jones breaking his duck in Arizona colors, but the secondary was bad and further weakened when corner Mike Jenkins, a roster hopeful, suffered a rather serious-looking knee injury. If Jenkins is done, it all but assures that they’ll have to rely on rookie Brandon Williams to start opposite Peterson, and he’ll have to sink or swim right away.
Again, the lone bright spot was the running game, where the trio of David Johnson, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington all look capable of churning out yards inside and out behind Mike Iupati and newcomer Evan Mathis. They figure to be the team’s surest -and safest- path to victory, as they’ll give Palmer less to do while simultaneously keeping the defense off the field.
It’s just a question of whether Arians’ ego will allow that to happen. If he continues to fancy his offense as a pass-first operation, then the Cardinals may find themselves behind the eight ball early and often, with the defense put in compromising positions and the running attack untenable.
The silver lining in Arizona’s cloud is that the early schedule looks forgiving. The Patriots won’t be a patsy of course, but the Cardinals get them at home and without the suspended Tom Brady. Then come the Buccaneers, the Bills, the Rams and the 49ers, none of which should sniff the playoffs. It’s a chance for the Cardinals to work out the kinks and build a cushion in the division, almost in spite of themselves, against the traditionally late-starting Seahawks, who once again figure to slumber through the season’s first half.
Perhaps we’re making a mountain out of a molehill with Palmer. The Cardinals did win 14 of 18 games last season and are due a measure of respect for that. And Palmer did struggle last preseason too, for what it’s worth. But from here, it looks like the main reason Arizona remains a viable playoff contender has less to do with them and more to do with having Los Angeles and San Francisco in their division. The NFC West as a whole looks primed for a fall and 11 wins may prove enough to win it.
If there’s any correlation between the preseason and the real one, even that shallow hill will be too high of a climb for these birds.