Saturday, June 15, 2013
Slotting expectations for Larry Fitzgerald
By Mike Sando
First-year Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians noted in March his plans to diversify Larry Fitzgerald's alignments in 2013.
He speaks with some credibility on the subject after taking a similar approach with Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne last season, when Arians was offensive coordinator and interim head coach.
Those 2012 Colts, like the 2013 Cardinals, had recently gone through a brutal season at the quarterback position.
"Both times, when you come off a year where you had quarterback flux, it is tough on a great wide receiver," Arians said from the NFL owners meeting in March. "The problem with great wide receivers is you can't hand them the ball. You gotta get it to them.
"The thing with Reggie, he had been on the left side for 10 years. To be able to be a flanker and put him in motion, be a slot receiver and develop his skills is something that we'll look to see if that is good for Fitz."
Fitzgerald offered related thoughts recently, noting he's going through an adjustment period.
So, what might the changes mean for Fitzgerald? The chart could give us some idea. It shows a percentage of routes run from the slot for Wayne and Fitzgerald for the 2008 through 2012 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Note that we're talking about routes, not targets or receptions.
Wayne ran nearly 62 percent of his routes from the slot under Arians in 2012, a roughly fivefold increase from 2011. He still made most of his receptions from elsewhere, 59 to 47. The yardage gained was about the same.
As Arians noted, Wayne had lined up largely on the outside left side of the formation before 2012. The same was true to a lesser extent for Fitzgerald until 2010, when the left-right route distribution began evening out for those plays when he lined up outside.
We should expect a significant increase in routes from the slot for Fitzgerald in 2013. Like Wayne, he's good enough to produce from anywhere on the field, particularly with a competent quarterback throwing the ball to him.
Wayne had Andrew Luck last season. Fitzgerald has Carson Palmer this season. Luck ranked 11th in Total QBR last season at 65.0. Palmer was 29th at 44.7. Palmer had the higher NFL passer rating, 85.3 to 76.5. Luck attempted longer passes on average, completing a lower percentage of them for a higher number of yards.