One might think that at 35 years old and having suffered two major knee injuries in the past 8 years, Carson Palmer has no business being this good. But Palmer isn’t interested in what he should be—he’s focused on what he is. And right now he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
(And we’re not saying that just because Palmer gave us exclusive access to his comeback, which you can watch here. Palmer’s play this season speaks for itself.)
Through NFL Week 5, Palmer ranks first in the league in touchdown passes (13), fourth in passer rating (114), fourth in yards per attempt (8.89) and fifth in total passing yards (1,316). He’s also ranked as the top quarterback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, a service that watches every snap of every game and assigns grades based on player performance.
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To really appreciate how great Palmer has been this season, you need to see him play. He’s been nailing every throw an elite quarterback needs to complete and making it look simple. Just look at some of Palmer’s best passes from the Arizona Cardinals’ 42-17 dismantling of the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Check out Palmer’s great footwork here. He feels both edges collapsing in, so he calmly steps up in the pocket to avoid the rush. Then he delivers a laser beam to a well-covered Larry Fitzgerald for a completion.
Palmer does a great job of taking advantage of a size mismatch on this touchdown pass to tight end Darren Fells. The 6-foot-7 Fells is matched up against Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch’s a good player, but he’s listed at 5-foot-11. Palmer knows this and takes advantage by delivering a nice, high pass to Fells, who easily hauls it in over the relatively diminutive Tulloch.
When an offensive team is backed up against their own goal line, they typically try to eke out a few yards and give themselves some breathing room. They don’t usually drop back and throw a 35-yard bomb. But Head Coach Bruce Arians and Palmer have no problem going against the grain. On a 2nd-and-10 at the Cardinals own half-yard line, Palmer takes a confident 5-step drop and hurls a beautiful deep ball to John Brown.
At 5-foot-11, Brown lacks a size advantage against most NFL defenders. But that doesn’t deter Palmer from hitting him with this sweet touchdown pass. Brown runs a nice route, cutting up the seam and angling towards the middle of the field. However, the eyes of three Lions defenders are locked on him. Despite tight coverage, Palmer spins an on-the-money pass that floats over the linebackers and right into Brown’s outstretched arms.
When a QB and a receiver have good chemistry on a slant route, it’s practically unstoppable. A well-run route by Fitzgerald and a perfectly-placed pass by Palmer make this one of the easier touchdown connections you’ll see.
In total on the day, Palmer was 11-for-14 passing for 161 yards and three touchdowns.
All of this is especially impressive when you consider that Palmer spent his off-season rehabbing an ACL tear in his left knee. Palmer attacked his rehab with a ferocity and passion rarely seen in a veteran athlete recovering from major surgery.
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His daily off-season routine consisted of workouts at 7:30 a.m., rehab right afterwards and on-field drills in the afternoon. “It’s been a great challenge, but I enjoy challenges,” Palmer told STACK. The grind paid off. With Palmer at the helm of a high-powered offense and a loaded defense that’s playing lights out, the Cardinals look primed to make some serious noise this season.