Peterson’s Resurgence Helps Cardinals Fly Past Bucs
The Arizona Cardinals found themselves in unfamiliar territory on Sunday. With less than five minutes elapsed from the start of the third quarter, the Cardinals led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by 31 points. The offense had been rolling and the defense had been suffocating. By the end of the game the starters were in victory formation, taking a deep sigh of relief, after surviving a furious Tampa Bay comeback. The win put the Cardinals back in the conversation for a division title and ultimately a playoff spot. Here is a breakdown of what happened and how the Cardinals weathered the storm.
The Adrian Peterson Show
In the preview for Sunday’s game a major point of emphasis was getting newcomer Adrian Peterson on track. Peterson’s acquisition earlier in the week seemed to energize the team and fans ahead of Sunday’s clash. The days leading up to the game, talk focused less on what was broken with the offense or defense, and more about how exciting it would be to see Peterson in an Arizona uniform. To be fair, Peterson did not disappoint on Sunday, running rampant against the Buccaneers defense. The Cardinals offense found balance for the first time all season on Sunday. Peterson carried the football 26 times and finished with 134 yards and two touchdowns. The running back needed just one game in a Cardinals uniform to become the team’s leading rusher this season in addition to becoming the team leader in rushing touchdowns and longest run. Keep in mind that this was the sixth game for the Cardinals.
Peterson broke out quickly against a normally tough Tampa Bay defense. Peterson ran hard and ran angry, often requiring multiple defenders to bring him to the ground. The Cardinals utilized multiple tight end sets, often motioning a tight end to overload one side of the line. One play the Cardinals used multiple times was the “Power O” with a guard and tight end pulling over to the other end to create a hole and seal off the second level of the defense. The return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone provided enough bulk on the left side to do some damage. On both of Peterson’s touchdowns, the Cardinals chose to run behind the left side of the line, with Peterson often going untouched the initial few yards after the hand off. The Cardinals have something interesting moving forward with Peterson. It will be important to replicate the success to keep winning.
Carson Palmer Nearly Flawless
One thing that a dominating run game can do is take away pressure from the quarterback to make big plays. Carson Palmer has been begging for some help on offense and Peterson’s fantastic debut allowed the quarterback to have a clean pocket and clearer throwing lanes downfield. Palmer was perfect in the first quarter, completing his first 14 passes, and finishing the day with an 81.8 percent completion rate. The Cardinals passing game benefitted from Tampa’s inability to stop the run. The defense was forced to add an extra defender into the box, often leaving single coverage on the outside and a run-focused linebacker on an athletic tight end. As a result, Palmer threw three touchdowns, all to open receivers.
The offensive line allowed less pressure on Sunday, giving up two sacks, buoyed by play action and multiple blocker sets. That protection gave Palmer the time needed to pick out his receivers, as exhibited by his completion percentage. This is the Palmer who made the Cardinals title contenders in 2015. This is the Palmer that the Bengals saw coming out of USC as the first overall pick. The main benefactor of a clean Palmer was Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran receiver found single coverage for most of the game and took advantage to a tune of ten receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown. Fitzgerald had a long of 29 yards and ran wild on the Tampa secondary. On Sunday, the passing game was crisp and dangerous, with Palmer leading the way and Larry Fitzgerald playing the star.