Josh Weinfuss reports on Adrian Peterson’s new teammates’ praise of the veteran running back and discusses what the offensive strategy will be moving forward.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer tried to stick with the football player’s creed of not looking forward.
The allure of what could be was too enticing for Palmer.
“I’m excited to see us continue just to see what else [coach Bruce Arians] comes up with, the wrinkles that we haven’t had because we haven’t had Adrian Peterson — and there’s only one of those in the league,” Palmer said. “I’m excited to see as we continue to build and change, to see what he comes up with.”
Palmer and the Cardinals don’t need to wait that long — or at all — to see the future of this season’s offense.
It was unveiled in front of them Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They put up 432 yards, marking the first time this season Arizona’s offense had more than 400.
If the Cardinals’ offense continues playing like it did Sunday — especially in the first half — then it will be among the toughest to defend in the NFL, all because of one simple question: Where will a defense focus? Peterson, Palmer or Larry Fitzgerald?
All three — each 32 or older — turned in their best performances of the season.
“Obviously, a day for old guys,” Arians said. “I know how to coach old guys.”
Arizona has a three-headed monster again, with Peterson taking the role vacated by Johnson, who suffered a fractured wrist in Week 1. But there’s a difference with this version of Arizona’s offense: Instead of a third-year star who is still blossoming, it has a surefire future Hall of Famer running the ball. What’s more, Peterson happens to be complemented by another surefire Hall of Famer in Fitzgerald.
Then there’s Palmer, who threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns on 18-of-22 passing while completing his first 14 attempts.
Together, they made the 2017 Cardinals look like the 2015 Cardinals — at least for a day.
“I feel like the sky is the limit,” Peterson said. “We have some explosive receivers and obviously Larry, and he’s been doing it at a high level for 14 years now. You have a lot of young guys as well. Carson Palmer is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
“So I feel like the sky is the limit for us. It’s all about watching film, correcting the little things and taking the next step forward.”
It didn’t take long for the Cardinals to see how Peterson would impact their offense.
Peterson ran for 8 yards on the game’s first play and for 8 more two plays later, followed by an 11-yard run and a 27-yarder to score a touchdown, all within the game’s first three minutes.
That drive set the tone — for the rest of the game and season.
Thanks to Peterson, the play-action worked, which meant the passing game opened up for the first time since Johnson got hurt.
If Palmer wasn’t handing off to Peterson, who almost ripped Palmer’s shoulder out of the socket a few times when taking the ball, he was looking for Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald finished with 10 catches for 138 yards, 128 of which came in the first half. His touchdown catch came off a play-action to Peterson on a play that Arians said has been in the Arizona playbook for a while. Because of how Peterson ran the ball early, the Cardinals finally were able to use it.
“That’s all him, that’s all him,” Fitzgerald said of Peterson. “When you’re running the plays and you’re running downhill, the defense has to commit. You have to bring the safeties down in the box to be able to stop the run.”
That opens the passing game. That opens Fitzgerald.
“The effectiveness is going to be a lot better, especially when you’re able to mix in the run and have some passing plays off of that,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to be able to feed off of that. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Sunday’s offensive production was what Arians had in mind had Johnson stayed healthy. Now that the Cardinals have revitalized their run game, they’ll start seeing different coverages, Arians said. That’ll make Palmer’s dropbacks easier and less contested. That’ll give him more time. That’ll ignite the vertical passing game again.
Arizona’s offense, perhaps more than most, is intertwined. The running game begets the passing game, which begets the running game. On Sunday, it all was triggered by Peterson.
“We can be really, really good,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously we have to cut down on turnovers. My fumble was idiotic. It can’t happen. I let my team down. That just can’t happen.
“We’ve just got to clean up a few things, some stupid mistakes like mine, and I think we can really get off and run.”