Learning about his revolving door of skill-position players has just added to the challenge of the quarterback who was acquired by the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 18.
"We've had guys up and down and injured and coming back from injury and guys that have been established," Palmer said in a conference call on Wednesday, a few days before his Raiders travel to Green Bay for Sunday's game against the undefeated Packers.
"But for me, being the new guy on the block, I've just continued to work with everybody whether they're playing one week on and one week off — whatever it's been. We're definitely banged up and need to get healthy in a hurry all over the place. Whether it's Jacoby Ford being down and somebody else stepping up to be in his shoes, I was trying to get up to speed with Jacoby and another steps in — just trying to get up to speed with body language and timing of routes and all that stuff."
Through 12 games, the Raiders have lost 65 games from their preferred starters. Only Indianapolis (83) and Carolina (80) have more, according to ESPN's John Clayton.
The Raiders have had nine wide receivers on their roster at one point or another. Darrius Heyward-Bay, the leading receiver with 38 receptions, has missed two games. Denarius Moore has missed the last two. Ford has missed five, including the last three. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who played with Palmer at Cincinnati, was signed last month and has played in five games. Top tight end Kevin Boss has missed two games, as well.
Moreover, when Palmer arrived, Darren McFadden was the running back. McFadden, however, has missed the last five games with a foot injury, with bruising Michael Bush playing well but lacking McFadden's explosive ability.
"It really hasn't been one thing that's been more difficult than anything else," said Palmer, who said he spends each week learning the plays in the game plan rather than trying to learn the entire playbook on the fly. "It's just kind of been a whole bunch of stuff – studying a new playbook, new terminology, new formations. And then new guys – different route runners and different speeds and different body language at tops of routes. It's been just kind of getting on board with everything, starting over again."
Perhaps not surprisingly given the injuries and a half-season spent on the couch rather than the football field, Palmer is struggling through arguably the worst season of his career. He's completed 55.9 percent of his passes — he's never completed less than 60 percent during a full season as a starter. He's also never had more interceptions than touchdowns until this year, when he's thrown for eight scores but been picked off nine times.
Facing the Packers' 31st-ranked pass defense certainly should help.
"He's had his bumps along the way as he continues to learn his teammates," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said during his conference call. "We've had so many guys in and out of the lineup. I think that's the biggest thing because you're trying to build some chemistry, some rhythm with some guys, but sometimes when you don't have them it's hard to get that done when a guy's here and then a guy's gone. So, he's done a tremendous job. I think he has a pretty good sense of what we're trying to accomplish. I think he's getting better each and every week."
The statistics, however, say otherwise. After completing 70.0 percent of his passes against San Diego on Nov. 10 and 73.9 percent against Minnesota on Nov. 20 — with a combined three touchdowns and one interception in the victories — Palmer completed 56.8 percent with no touchdowns and one interception in a win against the Caleb Hanie-led Bears on Nov. 27. In last week's debacle at Miami, in which the Raiders trailed 34-0 entering the fourth quarter against a team that had been 0-5 against teams with winning records, Palmer completed just 48.8 percent.
That loss put the Raiders behind the playoff eight-ball. Now, they're tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West at 7-5, and they trail the Broncos in the tiebreakers.
So, the Raiders would have plenty to play for on Sunday, as it is. Playing the Packers, who are 12-0 and the defending champions, only heightens the anticipation.
"It definitely adds something to it," said Palmer, who went 2-0 with six touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 100.2 in two starts against Green Bay while with Cincinnati. "You get a chance to play against the champs and the fact that they're undefeated – they've got a bull's-eye on their backs with being undefeated. Just shows you how good they are to stay undefeated because everybody wants to be the team to knock them off and nobody's done it. We're excited about the opportunity, but we just need to get a win for our own record."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.