NFC West: Drew Stanton

It didn't take long for the Arizona Cardinals to have a quarterback controversy this offseason.

But it doesn't involve the starter or even the back-up.

Fourth-round draft pick Logan Thomas began his quest to win the third-string job from Ryan Lindley on Monday, when rookies reported to the Cardinals' practice facility in Tempe.

“It's competition,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said Saturday after the final day of the NFL draft. “There is nothing being handed to this guy. He is not the quarterback of the future until he earns it. He has to be a pretty good guy to get that No. 3 spot. The No. 2 spot isn't changing. That's not a problem.

“It's just a matter of, can he beat out Ryan?”

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLogan Thomas will compete with Ryan Lindley to be the Cardinals' third-string quarterback.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Arians said the Cardinals wouldn't take a quarterback if they didn't think he could beat out one of the two back-ups already on the roster. By simply drafting Thomas out of Virginia Tech, Arians showed his hand.

Then on Saturday, after general manager Steve Keim said a team should draft a quarterback later in the draft if it thinks he could eventually be a franchise player, Arians said Thomas fit that bill.

“He has the skill set to,” he said.

A decision won't be made on Lindley's future with the team until some point toward the end of training camp. Until then, it'll be a daily battle between Thomas and Lindley. Although he's likely to make the roster, Thomas' spot isn't guaranteed just yet. He was drafted as a developmental quarterback, Arians said, which means Thomas has to show progress for Arians and Keim to believe he can eventually be Palmer's successor.

Arians already knows what Thomas has physically. There are two intangibles, however, that Arians and Keim couldn't evaluate at the combine that will dictate what kind of quarterback Thomas turns into.

“The hardest things to judge are the heart and the brain because that's what they play with,” Arians said. “You have to have them in your huddle and in your (quarterbacks) room for a little while to really know what you've got. All the athletic stuff, he's got all that stuff.

“He's got the heart. If we can get him trained to play in this offense, his skill set fits what we love to do. He has a beautiful deep ball. He's got as pretty of a deep ball as (starter) Carson (Palmer), who I think has one of the best in the league. He can stand there and just drop it in the bucket.”

Arians said there's a drill that proves how well Thomas can throw a deep ball. The drill places a bucket 40 yards down field, four yards off the sideline. The goal is to throw the ball into said bucket.

“He'll put it in the bucket four out of 10,” Arians said, “which is unbelievable.”

Thomas only has from Monday until the end of the preseason to show the Cardinals how much he's improved. If he's not the starter, Thomas will be running the scout team, Arians said. And even then he'll only be getting half of the reps because back-up Drew Stanton will get the other half. Skill-wise, Arians thinks Thomas is ready to play now but how fast he progresses up the depth chart is all up to him.

What Thomas can offer the Cardinals that Palmer, Stanton or Lindley can't is the ability to make plays with his feet, Keim said. And that's exciting, but it may not be enough on its own to get Thomas snaps.

"Now, is he ready to play?" Arians asked. "No."

But Arians said Thomas will be playing quite a bit in the preseason because Palmer won't.

“The hardest part is you don't get enough practice,” Arians said.

“Once the season starts, the development is more learning the offense, learning why the ball comes out of your hand and it will show up the next offseason when he starts, again, attempting to move up the depth chart. But that first year it's all about coming in, beating out a guy that's already here who's pretty good, who's really improved in the year and (a) half that we've had him and that's Ryan.”

The case for Zach Mettenberger

February, 27, 2014
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Zach MettenbergerDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsZach Mettenberger threw for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns for LSU last season.
If you listened to Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians last week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, all is right in the world of the team's quarterbacks.

The Cardinals have their starter in Carson Palmer. And if Palmer goes down, Arians believes Drew Stanton can step in to lead Arizona to a division title.

"If something, God forbid, happened to Carson, I've got all the confidence in Drew taking over and us winning the division or the championship," Arians said. "He's been [in the system] two years now, he's smart, tough. That's all you want. He's a guy who can step in the game and doesn't need any reps. He reminds me a lot of Kelly Holcomb."

None of those comments came as a surprise. Arians loved Stanton when he was signed last offseason as the starter ... until Palmer was acquired in a trade and named the starter. It has worked out well so far. Palmer threw for a career best in yards while leading the Cardinals to 10 wins and the brink of the playoffs -- all of which helped Arizona overlook Palmer's career-worst 22 interceptions.

Arians believes Palmer can play until he’s "36, 37 -- easily." But that means Palmer will have to be re-signed before next February because the last year of his current three-year deal voids five days after the next Super Bowl. Palmer will be 35, probably still slinging it like the cowboy he is while playing in the wild, wild West of all places.

But Palmer isn't the Cardinals' long-term answer. Neither is Stanton. Neither is third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley.

Sure, Palmer could play for another two seasons. But at what point do the Cardinals look toward the future? It needs to happen this year and former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the place to start.

The Cardinals don't need to draft a quarterback in the first or even the second round. It's not that high of a priority, but Arizona needs to select a quarterback who it can mold into what Arians wants. Someone who they can give time to learn the offense.

"You go into every draft looking for the young franchise quarterback," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told SiriusXM NFL Radio from the combine. "Although, Carson gives you the luxury of not having to force [a pick]. Sometimes, when you don't have one, you get into a situation where you have to force a pick and that sets you back two to three years.

"Carson gives us some stability, but at the same time we'll always be aggressive in our approach and in our mindset that you're always looking for the next young quarterback."

There are few NFL-ready quarterbacks in this year's draft and even fewer who'll be sitting around on the second or third day. But Mettenberger has the physical traits Arians likes. He's 6-foot-5, 224 pounds with a big arm and already knows how to play in an NFL scheme. His offensive coordinator at LSU was former NFL coach Cam Cameron.

Mettenberger threw for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2013 before tearing his ACL in the Tigers' regular-season finale. He wasn't able to do any of the drills at the combine, which could make his stock drop -- right into the Cardinals' lap.

"Without the injury, I still don't think he's going to be a first- or second-round pick," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think what he is  and what worries me a little bit on tape is I think he stares down some of his intended receivers, I think the ball comes out late sometimes. He's not a guy that I think can start Day 1 in the NFL anyway.

"So, if you ask me how much it would impact him, the injury, I don't think quite as much as you might think on the surface, because I do believe he's got a lot of learning to do. I like his size, I like his ability and I like his arm strength. It's more just a matter of his footwork, being more consistent with the ball, his feet being lined up, getting the ball out and some of the reads he makes. I think he just doesn't get the ball out quickly enough and I think that's something that a young quarterback has got to develop."

Mettenberger sounds like the perfect project for quarterback guru Tom Moore. Mettenberger likely won't be ready for training camp and may not even be 100 percent for Week 1. But then again, the Cards don't need him to be.

They can place him on the injured reserve/non-football injury list, which would allow Mettenberger to be activated at some point during the second half of the season. By November, Mettenberger's knee would likely be healed -- ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter said last week that Mettenberger's recovery is progressing faster than expected -- and he can start taking reps in practice.

Even though Keim said at the combine that he's always looking for a quarterback, he also has said, according to the team website, that the only way a quarterback can mature is by playing.

"The only way to grow as a player is to get those full-speed reps," Keim said. "You don’t get those in practice. You have to learn on the job. Obviously [Green Bay quarterback] Aaron Rodgers was a different circumstance, and it's not a bad circumstance to be in, but at the same time, if you want to win now and you want significant improvement early in their career, I think it's in their best interest to play early."

Arians shared a similar philosophy.

"I don’t believe in drafting quarterbacks thinking they can learn a damn thing holding a clipboard," Arians said, according to the team site.

But holding a clipboard is exactly what Stanton has done for the past three seasons, two of which have been spent learning Arians' scheme. He hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since 2010. Yet, Arians still believes he's capable of coming in, if needed, and leading the Cardinals to a division title?

While Rodgers is the ultimate example of what a quarterback can do after learning for few seasons behind the starter, Palmer isn't far behind. He was drafted No. 1 overall in 2003 and didn’t play a down his rookie season, learning behind starter Jon Kitna. And Palmer has turned out all right. What better player to mentor Mettenberger than a guy who went through the same thing?

Which is why the Cardinals would be better off long term if they drafted a quarterback like Mettenberger and let him learn from Moore, Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and then let him take over in 2015.

The future will be here before Arizona knows it and it looks like Zach Mettenberger.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the 2013 season not even in the books for three weeks, it was time to decide who was the best of the best for the Arizona Cardinals this past year. My inaugural postseason awards were both standard and outside the box.

So, without further ado, I present my 2013 awards:

Offensive MVP: Michael Floyd, wide receiver. It may not be the popular choice, but Floyd was the most valuable player to the Cardinals offense. His breakout year eased the pressure on Larry Fitzgerald and caused teams to think twice about double or triple teaming Fitzgerald -- even though most did. And what did Floyd do? Just catch 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, setting career highs in just his second season. But that wasn't his most important contribution to the Arizona offense. For a team that was struggling to secure first downs, especially when the down marker ticked to third, Floyd was a beacon of first-down hope. Between weeks 10 and 16, he had 25 straight receptions that went for first downs. And of his final 34 catches, 30 moved the chains. There's not a bigger impact a player could have, with the exception of catching touchdowns, than giving his team a fresh set of downs. Add on the game-winning touchdown against Seattle and Floyd's contributions to the offense were worthy of him being the offensive MVP.

[+] EnlargeDansby
AP Photo/John CordesKarlos Dansby was all over the field this season -- setting career highs in tackles and interceptions while notching 6.5 sacks.
Defensive MVP: Karlos Dansby, linebacker. In his return to the Cardinals, Dansby proved age is just a number. He had a career season despite missing out on the Pro Bowl yet again. As the on-field conductor of the Cardinals' sixth-ranked defense, Dansby didn't just put his teammates in the right positions to make plays, he went out and made them himself, impacting games from all three levels of the defense. His career-high 114 solo tackles and four interceptions to accompany his 6.5 sacks proved his versatility. To top off a career year, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Dansby came into training camp slimmer than he's been and it was evident in his ability to get in the backfield and chase defenders from sideline-to-sideline. And when he dropped back in coverage, he got his hands on the ball. His overall impact from front to back and side to side made him worthy of being the defensive MVP.

Special teams MVP: Justin Bethel, gunner. This was almost a no-brainer but I did consider punter Dave Zastudil. But how many gunners have special teams game plans built for them? He was named to the Pro Bowl after finishing with 21 special teams tackles, four downed punts inside the opponents' 10 and two blocked field goals. He also recovered a muffed kickoff. Bethel's ability to get past double teams constantly made him a threat to kick returners. Opponents would normally double and often triple team Bethel, forcing him out-of-bounds before he had a chance to break free. When he had a step on his defenders, it was tough for them to catch Bethel, who'd often bring down kick returners within a few yards of them fielding the punt which, in turn, would give the Cardinals great field position.

Assistant coach of the year: Brentson Buckner, defensive line coach. Buckner had a tough task. For as well as the defensive line did in pass rush situations in 2012, it was equally as bad against the run finishing 28th. He challenged the defensive line in an early-season meeting and it responded by becoming the No. 1 run defense in the league. Buckner's experience as an NFL player and his honesty endeared him to his charges, who laid it on the line for Buckner.

Rookie of the year: Tyrann Mathieu, safety. He made an instant impact, forcing a fumble in his first game, and didn't slow down until a knee injury forced ended his season after Week 13. Mathieu's athleticism and nose for the ball earned him playing time and his versatility kept him on the field. Other Cardinals' rookies contributed but none had as large of an impact as quickly as Mathieu.

Best offseason move: Trading for Carson Palmer. Without Palmer, all the interceptions included, where would the offense have been? In the hands of backup quarterback Drew Stanton. Capable, I'm sure, but Stanton hasn't thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2010. Palmer's addition gave the Cardinals a reliable thrower who made passes that hadn't been completed in Arizona since the Kurt Warner days.

Best in-season move: Trading Levi Brown. Signing tight end Jake Ballard, receiver Brittan Golden or linebacker Marcus Benard were also considered. But trading Brown set the Cardinals up for future success. He was moved after Week 4 and was instantly replaced by second-year tackle Bradley Sowell, a more athletic and nimble tackle, who found his footing along with the rest of the line midway through the season. Sowell brought athleticism and the ability to slow down an outside pass rush.

Veteran of the year (8-plus years): John Abraham, linebacker. Initially signed to be a pass-rush specialist, Abraham was thrown into the starting rotation after Week 3 and proved to everyone, including himself, that at 35 he still had what it takes to be an every-down player. All he did was have 11.5 sacks, to move onto the top 10 in history and earn his fourth Pro Bowl nod.
TEMPE, Ariz. – The NFL’s active leader in sacks may be stuck at 133.5 until next season.

Arizona Cardinals linebacker John Abraham will be a game-time decision because of a groin injury that has sidelined him from practice this week, coach Bruce Arians said.

Abraham
“It’s pretty sore,” Arians added.

While Abraham may be out, Arizona could get back safety Rashad Johnson from a high-ankle sprain he suffered against Tennessee. Johnson practiced Thursday for the first time in two weeks and “did very well,” Arians said.

Backup quarterback Drew Stanton practiced in full but was added to the injury list because of a knee issue. Linebacker Daryl Washington was also added to the injury report with an ankle injury.

Guard Daryn Colledge (back), Johnson and Washington were limited.

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (shoulder), tight end Rob Housler (groin), running back Rashard Mendenhall (finger), quarterback Carson Palmer (right elbow/ankle), tackle/guard Nate Potter (ribs) and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (groin) were upgraded from limited to full.

FTP: Mustache is working for Palmer

November, 28, 2013
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Flush the Pocket will be your daily morning dose of the Arizona Cardinals. It’ll recap the top storyline from the previous day and give you a look at what everyone is saying locally and nationally.

TEMPE, Ariz. – When pro athletes find something that works, they stay with it.

It might be wearing the same socks or eating the same meal or taking the same route. For Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, it’s rocking a mustache. The end of November -- or "Movember" -- is creeping up, but Palmer has had such good luck with his 'stache that he might keep it even after the month is over.

He’s certainly not shaving it for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, which takes place on the first day of December.

“No,” Palmer said.

There’s a reason.

“I’m not superstitious at all but I’m totally superstitious,” Palmer said. “A little-stitious. I’m quite-stitious.”

While he’s had the mustache, the Cardinals have gone 3-0, averaging more than 31 points per game. He’s thrown six touchdown passes and just one interception while totaling almost 1,000 yards. The 'stache is clearly working.

He’s never had a mustache for this long and isn’t sure how long he’ll keep it. If Arizona wins in Philadelphia, how could he shave?

“I don’t know,” he said. “We actually need to come to a decision here pretty soon, us mo-bros, the QBs. Actually, it’s Drew Stanton – it was his decision and his call, so I think he should decide when the razors come out.”

In other news…

Bob McManaman of AZCentral.com writes about Eagles quarterback Nick Foles having a great month. Craig Morgan of FoxSportsArizona.com writes about Bruce Arians’ return to Philadelphia. And Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com writes about the Cardinals preparing for the Eagles’ offense.

FTP: Palmer's 'stache makes TV debut

November, 20, 2013
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Flush the Pocket will be your daily morning dose of the Arizona Cardinals. It’ll recap the top story line from the previous day and give you a look at what everyone is saying locally and nationally.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- We all know it’s Movember.

Just look around anywhere and you’ll see men of all ages, shapes and sizes rocking mustaches. Some are legendary, some are pitiful, yes some are worthy of national TV.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was on ESPN’s "NFL Live," looking like this:



We all know it’s for a good cause, to support men’s health. And sometimes it’s just down right funny.

Even backup quarterback Drew Stanton got into the Movember mood.

When Palmer shaved last week, he came into the locker room with, what he calls, a “cop ‘stache.” Palmer said he’ll keep it for all of November but no longer.

“We’ve got a long season to go, so I don’t know how long I can get away with this.”

In other news…

Kent Somers of AZCentral.com writes about the optimism and pessimism surrounding the Cards.

Bob McManaman of AZCentral.com gets to know cornerback Jerraud Powers.

Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com writes about what’s happening around the NFC West.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

October, 13, 2013
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SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the Cardinals’ 32-20 loss to the 49ers.

What it means: The Arizona Cardinals showed Sunday they aren’t a pushover in the NFC West. Even though the offense started out looking pitiful with turnovers , the defense carried the Cardinals while making the San Francisco 49ers look human. By playing the Niners tough until about seven minutes left, the Cardinals put the Seattle Seahawks on notice, essentially telling them that no matter the venue, their defense will come to play. Although the offense continued to have its issues, especially in the first quarter and a half, it showed what coach Bruce Arians’ offense could accomplish, when tweaked.

Stock Watch: Rookie running back Andre Ellington has been establishing himself all season, but he showed what he could do when being entrusted during crucial situations. Ellington provided a burst, the proverbial lightning to veteran Rashard Mendenhall’s thunder. He scored his first career rushing touchdown on a 15-yard run in the second quarter in which he cut out wide to the right and turned on the jets to hit the end zone.

Two Palmers: Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer may very well have turned a corner. He started horrendously Sunday, throwing two interceptions in the first nine minutes of the game, and then was sacked early in the second quarter for a safety, although that wasn’t totally Palmer’s fault. But then something happened. With backup Drew Stanton looking like he was preparing to get his first snaps since 2010, Palmer executed a nearly perfect three-play drive that pulled the Cardinals within 15-14 late in the first half. Palmer’s resurgence continued in the second half, when he threw a touchdown to Michael Floyd off his back foot, a play that has been intercepted in the past.

Drive killers: It’s not just interceptions that hampered the Cardinals on Sunday. Two fumbles derailed drives when Arizona needed them most. In the third, Larry Fitzgerald's fumble at San Francisco's 23-yard line ended a drive that could've given the Cardinals the lead. And then in the fourth quarter, Alfonso Smith fumbled his only carry of the game, ending a drive that would’ve helped cut into the Niners’ lead. To compete in the NFC West, of all divisions, the Cardinals need to keep their hands on the ball.

What's next: The Cardinals face their second straight NFC West foe in a week when they host Seattle at 5:25 p.m. MT Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Bruce Arians knows how to present a joke.

He looks like a seasoned comic in front of the media, knowing what will draw laughs and what won’t. So when he approached one of his punch lines Monday afternoon, he was in perfect form. He teed it up. Nailed it. Then waited for a reaction.

But there wasn’t anything except for a bit of stunned silence.

“Offensively,” Arians set it up, “it was putrid.”

Pause.

Silence.

This wasn’t a joke, however. This was an apt description of not just the Cardinals’ inability to move the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4 but their offensive struggles as a whole this season.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCoach Bruce Arians is optimistic that WR Larry Fitzgerald and his teammates will soon fully grasp Arizona's offensive scheme.
“That’s a good defense,” Arians said, referring to the Bucs, “but we continually harmed ourselves with mental errors, which sounds very repetitive but it is getting repetitive for me too.”

The Cardinals rank 26th in total yards per game, 27th in rushing yards per game and 17th in passing yards per game. But there’s more. They’re 30th in third-down percentage and 31st in red zone percentage.

It sounds like a broken record, but Arizona continues to struggle on third down, converting just 29 percent this season. The two teams worse than the Cardinals, the St. Louis Rams and the New York Giants, are 1-3 and 0-4, respectively. Despite struggling to move the ball, Arizona has been able to manage a .500 record.

While a lot of that has to do with the defense, the offense, when executed properly, has shown to be an effective force. It moves the ball quickly while eating up chunks of yards with a balance of running and passing.

But it’s not just poor decisions and third downs that have derailed more drives this season than Arians can count. The Cardinals don’t yet have a complete understanding of the offense after six months of learning it.

“I haven’t seen it take this long ever,” Arians said. “We’ve looked at it long and hard as a coaching staff, if we’re asking too much, and everyone decided obviously not. We just have to do a better job as coaches and players.”

Backup quarterback Drew Stanton watched Arians install the same offense last season in Indianapolis as the offensive coordinator then interim head coach. There are small changes this season, mainly because of personnel and opponents, but the Colts didn't take as long to pick it up.

Arians wants to create mismatches as often as possible, and that philosophy has changed how players like wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald approach the offense. Fitzgerald has been moved around the field for the first time in his career, lining up out wide, in the slot, off the line and everywhere in between.

He struggled to pick up the added positions during organized team activities and minicamp, but after an entire offseason, he figured out where he needed to be. Yet Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd can still be seen changing positions at the last second before a snap or figuring out where to go coming out of a huddle.

“At times there are moments where there’s a little bit of confusion,” Fitzgerald said. “I think guys, overall, are getting better at digesting things that are going on. This week, hopefully, it’ll be a lot sharper.

“We’re going to do some things to make things a little bit easier for guys to go out there and play fast.”

Last week, there were 180 plays on the quarterbacks’ wristbands, a high number around the league.

“I don’t think it’s any more complicated than it has been in the past from my limited knowledge of last year’s experience,” Stanton said.

But complicated it still is.

Even for Fitzgerald, who’s known for being among the most studious players in the NFL, the variances in Arians’ offense are a lot to comprehend.

“Just a lot of nuances. Just a lot of just specific things,” Fitzgerald said. “A route could be run one way in this coverage, and it could be run a different way in [that coverage] based on coverage. There’s a lot of different things you have to pick up pre-snap and also while you’re running the route.

“Once you get it, it’s pretty indefensible because they can’t guess right. They can’t play coverages that’s gonna take it away if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do and you’re on the same page as your quarterback. We’re just trying to get to that point where it’s just second nature. It’s like just playing ball with your buddies in the backyard, and that’s how we want to get to.”

It will take practice, Arians said.

One thing Arians has stressed since he arrived was the importance of all 11 players being on the same page. If 10 are and one isn’t, quarterback Carson Palmer said, the play will be a dud.

So far, the Cardinals have had more plays with 10 men on the same page instead of 11, Palmer added.

For weeks, the general feeling has been the Cardinals are one play away from their offense churning out points and eating up yards on every drive. Whether it’s converting a third down or finishing in the red zone, it always comes down to one play. In practice, those plays are being finished and mistakes aren’t being made, just in games.

Palmer can’t figure out why. Neither can Arians. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin sees it too. Some Cards are picking up the offense faster than others, but the offensive flashes during the past two weeks have proved to Goodwin what can happen once all 11 players are on the same page.

“Trust me,” Goodwin said, “the play would work.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – There are a couple of Cardinals – Jerraud Powers and Drew Stanton – who firsthand saw Bruce Arians assume the interim head-coaching role last season in Indianapolis. But they also saw Chuck Pagano’s influence on that team from the start of training camp.

Arians
Arians
To Bradley Sowell, Arians is practically the only coach he’s ever known. An undrafted free agent last year, Sowell signed with the Colts just before Week 2 off Tampa Bay's practice squad. After the next game, Pagano took a leave while he was treated for leukemia. Arians took over and coached Sowell for the next eight weeks.

When Sowell joined the Cardinals this year prior to Week 1, he found the same old Arians.

“It’s exactly the same,” Sowell said. “He’s the same guy, he’s real upfront. I like that. He’s real honest with guys and he lets you know where you stand right way, whether you like it or not.”

Arians runs the same offense as he did in Indianapolis, so there wasn’t much of a learning curve when Sowell joined the Cardinals, not with the offense nor with the staff.

“He’s kept it just the same,” Sowell said. “He’s the same guy here that he was there.”
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 exhibition opener, which they led 17-0 when I filed this late in the fourth quarter:

1. Palmer's debut: New quarterback Carson Palmer completed four of six passes for 77 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a 149.3 passer rating. He certainly looked like the upgrade Arizona sought from its previous quarterbacks. Both incomplete passes were deeper attempts on third down. Palmer found Andre Roberts for a 38-yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers' starting defense (Arizona was tied for last in the NFL with three passes of 38-plus yards last season). Palmer also found Larry Fitzgerald for a 21-yard gain and Michael Floyd for an 18-yard gain. When backup Drew Stanton threw a touchdown pass to Jaron Brown, the Cardinals had as many scoring passes as the 2012 team managed through two-plus preseason games. Nearly 12 minutes remained in the second quarter.

2. Mathieu and the DBs: The Cardinals are building their secondary around young defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both made impact plays in this game. Peterson, the fifth player selected in the 2011 draft, picked off Green Bay backup quarterback Graham Harrell. Mathieu, a third-round choice this year, broke up a pass with a hard hit early in the game. He later collected a 12-yard sack on a blitz from the slot. Mathieu also provided a 23-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. He and Peterson could be good together for a long time.

3. Running back picture: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington did not play. Alfonso Smith carried 10 times for 21 yards and didn't appear to have much room for running. Rookie Stepfan Taylor looked good picking up 14 yards on one of his carries. However, the Cardinals did not run the ball well in this game. They did not find out much about their running backs.
After judging a quarterback by the company he keeps, I've expanded the field to show additional names with recent ties to the NFC West.

The chart below ranks these QBs by most starts since 2010 with at least 15 action plays and a Total QBR score in the 90s.

For additional context and to avoid implying any similarities between emerging star Colin Kaepernick and journeyman backup Brady Quinn, I've included an additional column showing cumulative QBR figures for all starts since 2010, regardless of how many action plays (all QB plays except kneel-downs, spikes and handoffs).

The information reflects negatively on St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who has just one 90-plus game out of 42 qualifying starts and a cumulative QBR score of 42.3, well below the 50-point mark indicating average play.

Some context is in order. QBR assumes an average supporting cast. Some quarterbacks on the list have played with exceptionally weak supporting casts. Bradford has arguably played with the weakest of the group, especially when factoring for the injury problems that wiped out Bradford and the Rams in 2011 in particular, when St. Louis led the NFL in adjusted games lost.

The Rams think Bradford's production will improve significantly in 2013 and especially beyond now that the team has acquired fresh, fast talent on offense. So, while we might reasonably have expected Bradford to have provided a few more exceptional performances to this point in his career, a case can be made that he has too often found himself in survival mode.

A newly re-signed Tarvaris Jackson will compete against Brady Quinn for the No. 2 job behind Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback Russell Wilson.

The way those players performed in their most recent starts suggests the team would be better off with Jackson as the starter if Wilson became unavailable.

We could make that case by noting that Jackson posted a 7-7 record with Seattle in 2011, his most recent season as a starter, while Quinn went 1-7 with Kansas City last season. But if we wanted a breakdown more specific to the quarterbacks, we could revisit a method we used when estimating NFC West quarterback values about five weeks ago.

That method suggests Wilson's performance for the full 2012 season provided about 3.8 additional victories relative to the 2011 version of Jackson and an additional 6.5 victories relative to the 2012 version of Quinn, based upon Total QBR scores for those players.

Teams posting Total QBR scores around 50 can expect to win about half the time. That baseline allows for calculating how many added victories a quarterback provides or takes away over the course of a 16-game season and relative to another player.

In the Seattle example, we start by averaging the single-game QBR scores for Wilson last season. The result was 63.9. We then average the single-game scores for the 14 games Jackson started in 2011 (40.1) and subtract the total from 63.9. The result rounds to 23.77. We then take 23.77 percent of 16 games to determine how many victories Wilson would provide over Jackson, based upon how each played in his last season as a starter.

By this measure, Wilson added 3.8 victories over what Jackson would have provided over a 16-game schedule if he had been the Seahawks' starter instead of Wilson, and had he performed the way he did in 2011. The calculation for Quinn goes like this: Wilson's average QBR score (63.9) minus Quinn's average QBR score last season (23.0875) equals 40.8125, which taken as a percentage of 16 games equals 6.53 additional victories with Wilson.

The difference between Jackson in relation to Wilson (minus 3.8 victories) and Quinn in relation to Wilson (minus-6.5 victories) works out to 2.7 victories -- say, the difference between 8-8 and 5-11 if the team played Jackson instead of Quinn over a full season.

The differences could become even more pronounced if we considered other factors. For example, Wilson had a 78.2 average QBR score over his final nine games. He might be more apt to play near that level in the future than how he played in the first seven games of his career. Also, Jackson played much of the 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle. Taking those things into account would change the calculations.

Note that averaging the single-game QBR scores for Wilson produced a number (63.9) that is lower than his cumulative QBR score for the season (69.6, as displayed in the first chart). We would see similar disparities if we compared a basketball player's average game-by-game shooting percentages to his cumulative percentages. Making both foul shots in one game and missing all four attempts in another would produce a 50 percent average and a 33 percent rate.

The chart below shows stats for current NFC West backup quarterbacks since 2008.

The St. Louis Rams said they would rather sign a couple big-money free agents than several mid-priced ones.

Quality over quantity was the rationale.



That approach helps explain why the Rams rank sixth among NFL teams in contractual commitments for unrestricted free agents signed from other teams this offseason despite landing just two of them in Jake Long and Jared Cook.

Maximum potential contract value can be misleading, but in general, the more aggressive teams will commit larger total dollar values toward free agents. As the chart shows, St. Louis ranks relatively high in total dollar values despite signing fewer UFAs than any other team ranked among the top 10.

ESPN.com's John Clayton takes a closer look in his column Sunday. While the Rams focused their UFA resources narrowly, the Arizona Cardinals added a long list of players at relatively low cost. Clayton liked the approach from a value standpoint.

"Three winners emerged from the post-frenzy shopping market -- Arizona, Chicago and Tennessee," Clayton writes. "Based on playing time from last year, I'd give the Cardinals the slight edge from the post-March 17 market."

The chart below, updated from the version published here March 27, lists playing time and contract information for all the UFA players Arizona has signed or re-signed this offseason.

Note: I added Karlos Dansby to the chart below. Most of the additions were unrestricted free agents. Dansby was not. The Miami Dolphins released him.

Brian Hoyer's release from the Arizona Cardinals, reported Monday, clears $2 million in salary-cap room while reflecting significant roster changes at quarterback since Hoyer started in Week 17 last season.



The team released Kevin Kolb, released John Skelton, acquired Drew Stanton and acquired Carson Palmer in remaking the position.

Hoyer, tendered by the Cardinals as a restricted free agent, was once a fallback in case the team could not add a clearly defined starter. Palmer's arrival by trade signaled Hoyer's likely departure from the roster, particularly after Stanton received a $2 million signing bonus.

Financial realities made keeping Hoyer unrealistic. Palmer's contract counts $4 million against the salary cap in 2013. That is a modest figure for a starter, but Kolb's deal is counting the same amount. That is because some of the money paid to Kolb previously had not yet counted against the cap. Rules require Arizona to account for that money even after releasing him.

Five quarterbacks will count against the Cardinals' cap in 2013 even though only three remain on the roster. Releasing Hoyer had no negative cap consequences because he had received no guaranteed money. Releasing him meant subtracting from the cap equation the $2 million in salary he would have earned.

Ryan Lindley is the only quarterback remaining on the roster from last season.

Sizing up West's backup QB contracts

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
10:30
AM ET
NFC West teams have added four veteran backup quarterbacks with regular-season game experience this offseason.



The chart provides 2013 contract info for each.

Guaranteed money serves as the strongest indicator for where a veteran player stands on a team when he signs a deal in free agency.

It's pretty obvious the Arizona Cardinals plan for Drew Stanton to be their clear No. 2 quarterback based on his $2 million guarantee.

The other players listed in the chart have fewer assurances from a financial standpoint.

The San Francisco 49ers' Colt McCoy, acquired by trade from Cleveland, is still playing under the rookie contract he signed with the Browns. The guaranteed money listed for him in the chart was paid as a signing bonus in 2010.

Brady Quinn (Seattle) and Kellen Clemens (St. Louis) signed for guarantees totaling less than $100,000 combined. Clemens could face the strongest competition for the No. 2 role given that Rams coach Jeff Fisher has suggested Austin Davis could serve in the No. 2 role even with Clemens in the picture.

Of the four quarterbacks listed, only Stanton is signed beyond 2013.

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