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Odd Man Rush: Palmer not the issue with Cardinals offense

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Updated: 10/19/2013 2:49 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - According to Arizona coach Bruce Arians, not even Peyton Manning or Tom Brady would be able to thrive under the current state of the Cardinals offense.

That should give those who think Arians should pull the plug on quarterback Carson Palmer seven games into the season something to think about.

It's easy to look at statistics and put all the blame on Palmer, who was acquired this past offseason from the Oakland Raiders after throwing for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2012.

This season, the 33-year-old has just a 69.5 passer rating and is second in the NFL with 13 interceptions compared to just eight touchdown passes. Palmer has thrown multiple interceptions in five consecutive games.

But Palmer has also been sacked 20 times -- tied for the third most in the NFL -- and has seen a ton of pressure this season thanks to a struggling offensive line. The unit has yielded the third-most QB hits this season with 47.

Remember, Arizona's collection of quarterbacks from last season -- which included eye roll-producing names like Kevin Kolb and John Skelton -- were brought down 58 times, a big reason the franchise selected guard Jonathan Cooper seventh overall in the 2013 draft.

But Cooper suffered a season-ending fibula fracture in the preseason and offensive tackle Levi Brown, the fifth overall pick of the 2007 draft, failed to fully pan out, was unable to stay healthy and was traded to Pittsburgh at the beginning of the month.

Arizona's inability to win the battles on the offensive line was on full display in Thursday's 34-22 loss to Seattle. Palmer was sacked seven times and picked off twice, though Arians admitted the following day he didn't think either interception was his quarterback's fault.

The first came on an underthrown ball to Larry Fitzgerald, though it also appeared Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner slightly made contact with the receiver before the football got there.

The ball bounced off Fitzgerald's hands on the bang-bang play and Seahawks safety Earl Thomas picked it off.

Arians, who said after the game he did not consider making a quarterback switch, felt the play should have been flagged.

"The first (interception) to me was obvious pass interference and the safety makes a great play," the coach said.

Arians initially felt Palmer's second pick was a poor decision on the quarterback's part, which is what he looks at in evaluating a possible quarterback change. On the play, Palmer faced quick pressure and threw off his back foot, with Browner jumping in front of receiver Michael Floyd for the turnover.

A day later though, Arians took Palmer off the hook.

"I got to give him credit for standing," he said of Palmer. "When you get hit that many times and you're still standing in there, looking back neither interception was his fault whatsoever. Overall he protected the football like he needed to. We've got to make better plays."

Arians noted that the constant pressure is causing Palmer to have to run more, going against his style of play. He felt only center Lyle Sendlein had a positive game versus the Seahawks, with the likes of Bradley Sowell, Paul Fanaika and Eric Winston continuing to struggle on the line.

There were other factors, too. Arizona fell behind 14-0 after the defense allowed Seattle to complete two long marches down the field for touchdowns in the game's first 17-odd minutes.

"Protection, when you get into that type of game and you're behind, it's going to struggle. We've got to figure out ways to start faster, both sides of the ball," the coach said after calling the start sluggish.

Indeed, as Arizona rushed for 30 yards and a score on 18 carries Thursday and is averaging just 77.7 yards per game on the year.

It's no coincidence that the Cardinals, given their struggles in pass protection and establishing the run, have now lost eight straight games to fellow NFC West teams. One thing Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis do well is rush the passer.

That makes a veteran like Palmer so valuable to the Cardinals. He knows he and Arians weren't brought in to turn this thing around in one year, even if both say playoffs are still the goal, with Palmer pointing out that Arizona is by no means out of the postseason hunt.

The 11-year vet has also stayed away from calling out individual players or units.

"Everybody needs to step up their game, mainly me being the quarterback. That's your job. But we've got to keep growing. There's not enough things (that) got better, obviously," said Palmer.

The backup quarterback is always the most popular player in town and there are probably more than a few in Arizona who have seen limited success this year by the likes of Nick Foles, Brian Hoyer and Thad Lewis and wonder why that can't be Ryan Lindley or Drew Stanton.

Hoyer, for instance, was one of four quarterbacks to throw a pass for the Cardinals last season and had helped lead the Cleveland Browns to a pair of surprising wins this season in Weeks 3 and 4 before suffering a season-ending injury.

But few both inside and outside of Cleveland saw that coming and Palmer has shown he has the right head on his shoulders to navigate the Cards through this process, even if he isn't the distant-future solution under center.

"This game, if you get frustrated that's when you get beat," noted Palmer. "You've got to continue to fight, you've got to continue to try and get better. As soon as you stop doing that, you need to stop playing."

A few more games like Thursday and not many would blame Palmer if he did just that.

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