The Arizona Cardinals offense in 2015 was one of the top-two most dangerous in the entire NFL. They were right there, neck-in-neck with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. The offense was a thing of beauty, and it was something that very few opponents proved capable of stopping. Unfortunately, the Cardinals offense of 2016 looks like something completely different, and Week 7 of the NFL season was proof of that.
Not only did the Cardinals’ passing game not look anything like it did last season, but the results proved that to be a bit of an issue. While David Johnson rushed 33 times for 113 yards against one of the toughest run defense in the league and quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 342 yards in the game, his yards-per-attempt was just seven.
In 2015, the Cardinals’ veteran quarterback averaged 8.7 yards per attempt, the highest of his career. As a result, he completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Cardinals were stretching the field in a big way, and it was causing headaches for every defense they came across for the most part. In comparison, Palmer has completed just 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,705 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions through the six games he’s started.
The field just isn’t opening up and the Cardinals aren’t doing enough to attempt to stretch it like they did last season. When looking at the numbers, the Cardinals led the league in yards per game last season with 408.3, while also scoring 30.6 points per game (No. 2 in the NFL). For comparison’s sake, the Cardinals still average the eighth-most yards per game this year, but rank tied for No. 15 in points per game (22.7), which is a more than a touchdown decline from one season to the next.
The decline in points is coming from a lack of attempts to stretch the field. Look at Sunday’s tie with the Seattle Seahawks as an example. Arizona all but abandoned taking chances downfield. In overtime, they had completions of 27 yards and 40 yards, but aside from that their longest pass from scrimmage was a 23-yard pass to third-string tight end Ifeanyi Momah.
If the offense is going to make a complete adjustment and look to utilize the run game with David Johnson as a primary focus, the Cardinals still need to utilize the deep ball. Players like John Brown (who missed Week 7) and J.J. Nelson can open things up by stretching the field, which hasn’t happened to this point.
While the Cardinals are 3-3-1 on the season, it’s the simple fact that their offense hasn’t looked even remotely as good as last year’s that’s the most concerning. Maybe things will get turned around, but for now, only one wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald) is on pace to hit the 1,000-yard mark. After him, it’s John Brown who sits currently with 301 yards, and their second-best receiver currently has actually been Johnson, with 28 receptions for 323 yards.
Finally, if the Cardinals are able to stretch the field, it’s going to make Fitzgerald’s life in the short passing game much easier. In turn, that’ll open things up for Johnson. The only chances Palmer seemed to take throwing downfield on Sunday were bad spots when there was double or triple coverage on the receiver.
It’s a different year, but that doesn’t mean things have to look 100 percent different than they have in the past for the Cardinals. The old saying “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” comes into play here.