Under head coach Bruce Arians, the Arizona Cardinals have prided themselves on having a vaunted aerial attack, targeting downfield opportunities more frequently than nearly every other NFL team.
But so far this season, the Cardinals have struggled to take the top off of opposing defenses, as quarterback Carson Palmer hasn't found a consistent vertical threat.
In Monday's contest against the New York Jets, the Cardinals unveiled a decidedly different strategy, electing to pass up deep balls in favor of opportunities in the intermediate passing game.
The result? Palmer's most efficient performance of the season.
The 14th-year veteran completed 23-of-34 pass attempts (67.6 completion percentage) for 213 yards and one touchdown. Palmer's 9.2 yards per completion against New York marked the first time this season Palmer has been held under 10 yards per completion, but it didn't make a difference in the outcome or in Arizona's overall offensive success.
According to Pro Football Focus, on throws between 10 and 19 yards down the field, Palmer completed 9-of-10 attempts for 107 yards and one touchdown.
That's remarkable efficiency, and exactly what Arizona needed from its signal-caller against a defense that opted to bring more pressure last night than it had throughout the season.
New York head coach Todd Bowles called Arizona's defense for Palmer's first two seasons with the Cardinals, and he knows exactly what weaknesses the quarterback struggles with.
Palmer has often thrown interceptions in the face of pressure, and he's been prone to putting balls in jeopardy against well-disguised zone coverages. Though Bowles pressured Palmer throughout Monday's game, he rarely mixed in zone pressures, electing to play man coverage against Arizona's receiving corps.
The decision proved costly for New York (albeit not as costly as any of its offensive play-calling), as Palmer dissected the man coverage throughout the night and got the ball out of his hands quickly. A team starting four inexperienced offensive lineman including a left guard making his first career start kept Palmer upright throughout the night, as the Cardinals' quarterback wasn't sacked by a Jets defense that boasts impressive playmakers like Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.
While veteran wide receiver Michael Floyd wasn't as much a part of Arizona's game plan last night, the Cardinals found success in the intermediate passing game by targeting third-year wideout John Brown.
On Arizona's final touchdown drive, Palmer threw three completions between 10 and 19 yards to Brown, who finished the night with five receptions for 54 yards. To cap off the drive, Palmer found Floyd on a beautifully thrown corner route for a 13-yard touchdown that turned an already out of reach game into a blowout.
Arizona's decision to abandon the deep passing game against one of the NFL's worst passing defenses was somewhat surprising, but also the sign of a well coached team executing an impressive game plan.
It's not easy for Arians and Palmer to resist the deep shots, but they did so Monday night and rode a wave of intermediate passes to victory.