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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Scouting the opponent: The challenge and opportunity of facing Carson Palmer

By Derek Wetmore

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It’s easier to be an old quarterback in the NFL now. Quarterbacks can only be hit in certain ways and receivers can barely be touched. Offenses are designed to work with shorter throws instead of pushing the ball downfield, so declining arm strength is less of a problem and a strong acumen is even more valuable. In other words, Tom Brady’s hope of playing into his 40s isn’t as outlandish as it seems on the surface.

Those rules only help older quarterbacks who are set up to take advantage of them. Bruce Arians doesn’t set his quarterback that way. Arians expects Carson Palmer to execute the offense that Arians has always run, a vertical passing game that relies on deep drops where the quarterback has to hold the ball against pressure in the pocket.

Palmer is 36 years old. He was an MVP candidate for much of last season despite being a 35-year old coming off the second ACL tear of his career. His season turned when he suffered a significant hand injury against the Philadelphia Eagles late in the year. The injury didn’t sideline him but it clearly had an impact on his ability to throw the ball. Palmer has been fully healthy so far this season but his age appears to be impacting his ability to execute Arians’ offense.

Although he can still make spectacular throws into tight windows deep downfield, the consistency of Palmer’s velocity and the consistency of his ball placement isn’t where it was at this time last year. Part of that may also be a result of the Cardinals’ offense as a whole not playing to the level it played to last year. Palmer is facing more pressure and dealing with more receiver error this year than he did last year. It doesn’t help that his head coach asked him to drop back more than 50 times last week despite playing with a 20-10 lead early in the third quarter.

J.J. Nelson was a big problem for Palmer last week.

The 49ers got the Cardinals into a 3rd-and-7 quickly on their first drive of the game. As he is wont to do in these situations, Arians spread the field with five receivers for Palmer as he stood in the shotgun. Palmer could see before the snap that he would have single coverage on J.J. Nelson to the left side of the field. With good timing and accuracy, Palmer lay the ball out in front of Nelson as he broke into space over the middle of the field. Nelson caught the ball and made a football move but fumbled it before finishing the play. The 49ers got an easy turnover.

Nelson played a role in putting the offense in that situation in the first place.

On the first down preceding that third down, Palmer gave Nelson an opportunity to make a play on the ball deep downfield. This is the positive side of Palmer’s aggressiveness. He puts the ball ahead of Nelson and gives him an opportunity to make a play on the ball even though he hadn’t created separation after breaking across the field. Nelson could argue that he was interfered with as he tried to make a play on the ball but his inability to fend off the defensive back reflects on his lack of strength. Nelson had another play similar to this later in the game when he couldn’t make a play on the ball in the air against tight coverage. That play occurred in the endzone and was another pinpoint throw from Palmer.

From the Vikings point of view, Nelson appears to be an ideal opponent for Trae Waynes. Waynes should be able to run with Nelson and Nelson isn’t a nuanced route runner so he won’t force the cornerback to cover him tightly through breaks. Waynes will also have a strength advantage over the smaller receiver without losing as much to his lower center of gravity as Xavier Rhodes would. Rhodes is an ideal matchup for Michael Floyd, leaving John Brown and Larry Fitzgerald as the problem receivers for the Vikings.

The Cardinals will use all of their receivers. Arians proved that by sticking with Nelson last week despite his early mistakes. That only led to another huge mistake though.

Palmer isn’t a scrambling threat but he is a quarterback who can create problems with his movement in the pocket. He will work to mitigate pressure and break the pocket when he is given an avenue into either flat. This play is a good example of how Palmer helps his blocking with subtle movement in the pocket before making an accurate throw on the move from outside of the pocket. That accurate throw should have resulted in a crucial first down on 3rd-and-10 late in the third quarter. Instead, Nelson lets the fast ball hit his chest before his hands so it slides off of him and into the air for Eric Reid to intercept it.

This kind of inconsistent execution has been a constant problem for the Cardinals this year. It’s a huge reason as to why they are a disappointing 4-4-1 so far. The 49ers failed to take advantage of the opportunities they were given until Palmer threw a horrible interception late in the fourth quarter that led to a game-tying touchdown.

On that play, Palmer can’t blame his receiver or his protection. He might be able to blame his coach for calling that type of play at that stage of the game, but regardless he shouldn’t have thrown the ball straight to a linebacker. He had Larry Fitzgerald open for a first down on an out-breaking route to the right side of the field.

Beating the Cardinals and stopping Palmer isn’t about containing him. He will create big plays because that’s the type of quarterback that he is. Stopping Palmer is about punishing him for his mistakes and taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Against Washington last week, the Vikings defense largely contained Kirk Cousins but crucial errors cost them. Before Jamison Crowder’s touchdown reception Cousins threw the ball straight to Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Both defenders went for the ball and took each other out in the air. That should have been a drive-ending interception.

Washington offered a more structured, ball security scheme than the Cardinals do but the Cardinals have a much better individual throwing the ball. This presents an interesting challenge to a defense that has become much too reactive instead of proactive against the passing game over recent weeks. Arians willingness to expose his quarterback should offer Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison the chance to become greater factors.

The post Scouting the opponent: The challenge and opportunity of facing Carson Palmer appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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