Quarterback: Carson Palmer
When Carson Palmer looks at himself in the mirror every morning, he sees a dad, a husband, and an NFL quarterback -- and probably the tinkerer of some obscure hobby, like modifying computer monitors into Jules Verne-looking stuff, although that seems more like a Jordan thing to do. The point is, the importance of the position is arguably unmatched in sports which means it's one of the hardest jobs in America, and Carson, if nothing else, knows his job well, and that is what makes him more valuable to the Bengals than many of us realize.
Obviously, there's more to it than just throwing the ball. The modern quarterback must have the ability to completely master a giant playbook and know where every 22 players will be on every play. He must be a leader in study sessions, during practice and especially on game-day. He has to remain calm and collected at all times both to heckling fans (like me) and to bothersome media (like me). He has to know how long his pocket will hold up and must somehow sense pass-rushers he cannot see. He has to have an ability to improvise on plays gone awry and demonstrate a certain panache while doing so. Most importantly, though, he has to convince the whole world that he has all of these things well under control and that their team is in good hands.
Then there is the physical side to the job. A quarterback's body must hold up to the annual beat-down it suffers at the hands of increasingly scary blitzers for at least 16 games a year. He also needs to be fairly tall to see over the line, and should run well. His arm must be strong enough to throw at least 50 yards in the air, throw bullets to the sidelines, and still have the ability to take some off of throws when a bit of finesse is required. He has to be tough, and if he can grow some quality cold-weather stubble, all the better.
It's this combination of mental and physical abilities that legitimizes Carson as a guy who is good at his job and eases my anxieties some about him remaining with the team.
When comparing Carson to the entire world, he looks like a great quarterback, but comparing him to other quarterbacks, he looks very average.
I think it's only fair to acknowledge the physical tole Palmer has endured after seven seasons. After the knee operation, he never looked as good. Then came the elbow injury in 2008, then the finger in 2009, and various other discomforts he experienced this year that forced him out of a practice a few times over the course of the season. Pass protection was often shaky -- especially early on -- and the big man from California took some shots that were not only painful, but also may have rattled him some. If he fears for his safety, he can't be at his best.
Still, there were dozens of crucial mistakes made by No. 9, and even though the team passed more in 2010, Carson's superlatives were rarely mentioned throughout.
Interceptions can stem from a variety of breakdowns, and not all of Palmer's picks were because of his own misdoing, but there were an abundance of dropped interceptions thrown that should have added to his already sizable total of 20 on the year -- a mark he has reached twice in the past four seasons (57 interceptions in 48 games). Too often do we hear him tell the media afterward that he just didn't see a defender or that he should not have tried to fit a certain pass into tight coverage. Instead of checking down to the flats or underneath, Carson would lock onto his primary receiver and try for bigger yardage, most times resulting in a wasted incompletion, or worse.
Yet, somehow more discouraging than his risky tendencies and accuracy issues, was the consistent blundering of communication between Palmer and his two hotshot receivers. Somehow the rookies knew their routes, but the veterans didn't? How does that work? My guess of what is going wrong is that on option routes, where the receiver decides where he runs based on the coverage, both passer and catcher are thinking opposite things. Chad slants while Carson throws a comeback route. That kind of thing could be understandable with TO, but the majority of the more perplexing pass plays came in the direction of Ocho. At this point, 9 & 85 should know each other better than anyone else on the football field. The time the two have spent with one another in the past eight years may be embarrassing for them to admit to, and that's why there is no reason they keep screwing up easy out routes.
As for his faith in TO, I think Carson agreed with Brat in that the veteran could catch anything. TO had a great year with Palmer statistically, but there were plenty of times when the ball should not have gone his way. As an eight-year elder, Palmer can't be suckered into hoping blind stardom can make the play on its own. When there were other open receivers, he ignored them in favor of Owens, and multiple games collapsed into losses based on that fact alone.
With the backup and rookie receivers, however, he looked sharp and in control . Could it really be a matter of these guys running simpler routes that the whole offense can understand, or do defenses relax on them because of their inexperience? I have a hard time buying the latter -- this is the NFL we're talking about -- so I think there may be something to the former. Last year, Palmer wasn't sterling, but he was polished, and the pressure on him was removed a great deal by the power of the running game. This year, that pressure was reapplied with over 100 more passing attempts and his ineffectiveness quickly bubbled to the surface. By the time they went back to what felt like last year's style, the team had already lost 10 games in a row and were sufficiently whipped from the playoff picture a long time before that.
Once Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell joined rookies Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley as the regular passing attack, suddenly a spark was lit and wins actually came about. It was amazing! Some commented on the resurrection of spirit and energy Carson seemed to experience, and, in a common theme in Cincinnati, fans had some new-found hope for next season.
If Carson really does feel more comfortable with the new guys and can mold them the way he wants them, then maybe there is reason for optimism in regards to the remainder of his career. At the rate he's going though, I would think that a new batch of receivers, might just be his last, and if that is the case, he'd better make this go-around work. With him under contract for a while longer, he will remain in stripes (even though he recently admitted that he can see himself elsewhere in a future scenario) and, in all likelihood, will be coached by the same men calling the same plays. If that remains the case, then it really is up to the development of the young receiving corps, but what would be best for the greater good, would be to go back to the run and rely on the whole passing ordeal a lot less next year. Again, I know his job is more complex than I can possibly imagine, and he is a decent quarterback for sure, but since he's not getting younger, or even better, it's best to remove as much from his shoulders as possible.