In this week's "Upon further review" series, CardinalsSource looks at how Arizona's first-team offense fared against the San Diego Chargers' first team defense.
We broke down all three series the first team offensive unit played, and though some of the Cardinals' starters stayed in the game after quarterback Carson Palmer's departure, Palmer's reps are the best indication of how prepared Arizona's offense is at this point in the preseason.
First offensive series
1st and 10: Arizona starts with 12-personnel, and uses a play-action fake on an off-tackle run to the left. Tight end Jermaine Gresham releases into a route, and right tackle D.J. Humphries misses his edge block which allows a Chargers' defender to hurry Palmer. Palmer does a decent job evading the rush, as the TV crew credited San Diego with a sack, but he slipped out of a would-be tackle and tossed a ball in David Johnson's direction over the middle that fell incomplete. Aside from Humphries, center A.Q. Shipley was completely out-played on first down.
2nd and 10: On 2nd down, the Cardinals bring on Jaron Brown and use 11-personnel. Brown motions from a trips set on the left to become the lone receiver on the right, and the motion gives Arizona a numbers advantage on the left. Palmer tosses a quick screen to Michael Floyd who receives a block from J.J. Nelson, but can't evade a tackler in a one-on-one situation, so he picks up just two yards.
3rd and 8: Arizona sticks with 11-personnel, and the Cardinals do a great job in blitz protection. Right guard Evan Mathis picks up a blitzing linebacker with ease, and Palmer throws deep down the right sideline for Floyd. Floyd had his man beat, but the ball was a bit under thrown and the Chargers' cornerback was able to knock the pass away.
Second offensive series
1st and 10: Backed up at their own two-yard line, the Cardinals use 13-personnel as Troy Niklas comes into the game as the team's third tight end. A delayed blitz from a Chargers' middle linebacker isn't accounted for by Arizona's offensive line, and that failure probably falls on Shipley. As a result, Johnson needs to do all he can just to spin out of a tackle in the end zone and get back to the line of scrimmage to avoid a safety.
2nd and 10: After 13-personnel didn't work, Arizona gambles with 11-personnel on second down which limits the Cardinals' protection options. Gresham stays in to act as an extra blocker in pass protection to give the Cardinals six options, and Palmer's only option is to find Johnson over the middle for a short gain of about three yards. Humphries did a nice job mirroring the Chargers' edge rusher's spin move.
3rd and 7: The Cardinals stick with 11-personnel and use a trips set to the wide side of the field. Palmer has plenty of time to throw, and he lofts a nice pass down the left sideline that allows Brown to make an impressive in-the-air adjustment. Brown comes down with the pass for a 23-yard gain and gives Arizona a first down.
1st and 10: Arizona uses 12-personnel on first down, but comes out with a bit of a funky set as Gresham lines up in a three-point stance outside of Brown who is standing directly next to Niklas on the right side of the formation. It's almost a bunch trips set with two tight ends and a receiver lined up directly in between them, but Gresham goes in short motion before the snap. The Cardinals' goal here is to create a numbers advantage for a running play, and if every player hit their block, Johnson may have been running for awhile. Unfortunately for Arizona, Gresham can't engage the linebacker, and Johnson is dropped after a five-yard gain that really could have gone for 15 or 20 because of the excellent block Brown delivered on the outside.
2nd and 5: Arizona stays in 12-personnel and keeps Gresham and Niklas on the same side of the formation. With both receivers in a twins set to the left, Arizona has numbers because the Chargers are giving the Cardinals more cushion than they should. At the snap, Palmer takes the traditional steps as if he's going to give an off-tackle handoff to Johnson, but breaks off those steps to throw across his body. Palmer completely telegraphs the throw, and without any protection on the left side of the line, Brandon Flowers comes off the edge and puts his hands up in the direct line of Palmer's pass. Flowers deflects the pass, bobbles it up, and intercepts the ball en route to a pick-six. This was a terribly executed play for Palmer, despite having an advantageous situation at the snap. If anyone steps into the throwing lane of a quick screen, it's the quarterback's job to throw the ball up and away out of bounds. Instead, Palmer tries to thread the needle, and the Cardinals pay for it. Credit Flowers for stepping into the throwing lane, but when a team gives that much cushion against an offense that religiously uses quick screens, having an edge rusher step into a throwing lane is an obvious way to defend this type of play.
Third offensive series
1st and 10: After the interception, the Cardinals' first team offense comes back on the field. Head coach Bruce Arians didn't want the Cardinals to have to play more than a series or two, but at this point in the game, the offense only had a handful of plays under its belt. Arizona starts in 11-personnel, with Brown in the slot about a yard outside of Gresham. At the snap, every offensive player executes their block on the right side of the line, but the Chargers' cornerback in secondary contain does an outstanding job of flying up to the line of scrimmage to seal the edge. Instead of cutting back inside where he may have had a cutback lane, Johnson strings the ball toward the edge (no harm in doing this) and is caught off guard by the cornerback who makes the stop for no gain. This is a difficult read as a running back, and sometimes, a defensive back just makes a great play.
2nd and 10: The Cardinals stick with 11-personnel, and motion Brown from right to left to put him in the slot on the wide side of the field. Both Humphries and Mathis struggle with speed rushes from their defenders, and as a result, Palmer immediately looks left where he tries to hit Floyd on a comeback route. Cornerback Jason Verrett steps in front of Floyd and nearly intercepts the ball, as Palmer probably tried to force this pass. Because of the rush, Palmer's feet weren't quite set, so he didn't have the same zip on the ball he usually throws with. This was probably an ill-advised attempt, and Arizona is fortunate it wasn't another pick-six.
3rd and 10: Using 11-personnel for the third straight play, Palmer drops back to pass, but faces late pressure from a looping stunt that caught Humphries almost completely off guard. This is the exact type of stunt we think will challenge Humphries throughout the season, because he has a tendency to relax too much when not faced with an immediate rush. The pressure forces Palmer to check down to Chris Johnson, who does a nice job cutting up field in an attempt to pick up the first. Johnson falls a yard short, though, and Arizona is forced to punt.
4th and 1: Butler unleashes an excellent punt down to the 10-yard line, and though it didn't have a ton of hang time, returner Travis Benjamin was only able to pick up seven yards on his return before being forced to step out of bounds. After this point, Arizona's starters slowly begin to come out of the game.