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Upon further review: Palmer's interceptions

This week's 'Upon further review' for the Cardinals' offense analyzes Carson Palmer's four interceptions and what went wrong.

For the first time since 2013, Carson Palmer tossed four interceptions in a regular season game in the Arizona Cardinals' 33-18 loss to the Buffalo Bills Sunday. 

On Monday, head coach Bruce Arians was asked about whether Palmer of Arizona's receivers were at fault for the interceptions, and Arians answered rather bluntly. 

"He threw them," Arians said.

In this week's 'Upon further review' piece, we decided to look at the tape and determine whether Palmer's interceptions were squarely on his shoulders or if his receivers shared in the responsibility.

Palmer's picks

Interception No. 1: Remarkably, Palmer's first interception didn't take place until the 6:40 mark of the fourth quarter, when the Cardinals had the ball down two scores with an opportunity to put a scare in the Bills' defense. With the ball at their own 25-yard line, the Cardinals lined up in an empty set with three receivers split to Palmer's right and two receivers to his left. 

Buffalo had just three down linemen and six players in the box before the snap. Immediately at the snap, Buffalo gets pressure off the edge with a blitzed coming untouched in the face of Palmer on a five-man rush. Because he feels the pressure, Palmer knows he has to get rid of the ball, and he sees John Brown preparing to make a break on what is likely an option route. Before Palmer uncorks his pass, it's relatively clear Brown is breaking into an out, but Palmer sails his throw over the middle, as if he was expecting a comeback from Brown.

As a result, Brown is nowhere close to the ball, and the pass is intercepted. It's obviously impossible to know whether Brown ran the wrong route, but if he indeed was supposed to break into the out, this is about as bad of an interception as you will see a quarterback throw. If it was an option route where Brown had the ability to break into an out or run a comeback, he made the right read and Palmer just was not on the same page here.

Interception No. 2: Before we analyze this play, we should note that on the play that comes before this, Palmer rolls out of the pocket and attempts a throw across his body that should have been intercepted by not one but two different Bills players and likely should have turned into a pick-six. It was a throw that was arguably worse than any of Palmer's interceptions.

However, our focus is on the balls the Bills did catch, and with 3:16 to go in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals are driving and trailing 33-16. With the ball on the Bills' 23-yard line, Arizona lines up with trips to the left, a single receiver to the right, and a back offset of Palmer.

At the snap, Palmer immediately locks in on the No. 1 receiver on the left side, allowing the safety to run toward that side of the field. After a quick pump fake on what is likely a double move, Palmer lofts a throw toward the goal line for Jaron Brown that is woefully under thrown. Additionally, Brown is double covered, because both his man and Buffalo's safety have had time to zero in on his route. The jump ball is intercepted at the 1-yard line, and marks the second consecutive puzzling throw from Palmer into double coverage. 

Interception No. 3: Because Palmer's last interception was picked at the 1-yard line, Arizona was able to get a safety and cut Buffalo's lead to 15, giving the Cardinals one last gasp of life on the afternoon. 

After a strong return from John Brown, Arizona has the ball at the Bills' 33-yard line facing a 3rd down and 16 in what is obviously four-down territory. The Cardinals come out in a 3x1 set with three receivers to the right and a lone receiver on the left while Buffalo has just two down linemen and five players in the box.

Even though Buffalo rushes just three, the Bills still generate edge pressure immediately at the snap which forces Palmer to step up in the pocket and fire away earlier than he probably would have liked. With just three rushers and eight players in coverage, nearly every Cardinals' receiver is likely to be double covered, so Palmer doesn't have any great options to choose from.

Still, Palmer's throw for wide receiver Michael Floyd on a crossing route from the right side of the field to the left corner of the end zone is thrown so short of Floyd that he can't even make a competitive play on the football, and the Bills' defensive back doesn't need to jump to snatch the interception. Perhaps Floyd's route needed to be sharper toward the pylon, but it's probably better off if it's deeper because it allows Floyd to use his 6-foot-5 frame to go up for a jump ball. In this situation, the last mistake Palmer can make is under throwing the ball, and that's exactly what he does.

Interception No. 4: With the game basically out of reach and Arizona needing a touchdown followed by a successful onside recovery to have a chance, Palmer eliminates the possibility of a miracle win with his fourth interception.

With the ball at the Bills' 28-yard line, Arizona comes out in another 3x1 set with trips to the right and a single receiver to the left. At this point in the game, Palmer has to take shots toward the end zone, even if they're ill-advised, so we're somewhat understanding of an interception in this type of scenario.

At the snap, Buffalo rushes three and drops eight, meaning there's bound to be double coverage on players or zone defenders looming in most open spaces. After a quick pump fake, Palmer lofts the ball toward the end zone for Floyd, where the Buffalo cornerback is playing textbook man coverage on him. The pass is under thrown, but only slightly in this case.

However, because Buffalo knew Palmer had to throw deep, it could afford to have its defenders give Arizona's receivers cushion at the line of scrimmage and anticipate vertical stems. That's exactly what happens, and Floyd isn't in position to win a jump ball on this play. This is obviously a situation where quarterbacks are more likely to throw interceptions, and the slight under throw leads to Buffalo's fourth pick in a matter of about five and a half minutes. 

Ultimately none of Palmer's interceptions reflect well on the quarterback, but his first three interceptions are much greater causes for concern than his final toss of the game. 


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