Carson Palmer is out and Drew Stanton is in… Again. In just 48 hours after it was reported that the Arizona Cardinals inked Palmer to a three-year contract extension with $20 million guaranteed, the starting quarterback went down in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s 31-14 victory over St. Louis with what is feared to be a torn ACL. This injury makes way for another return to the starting position for Stanton, who went 2-1 in his three games as starter early in the season. With the injury to Palmer appearing to be season-ending, Stanton’s newfound role as starting QB will need to display some consistency. And, in a league where consistency is found to be about as predictable as a dust storm in the desert during monsoon season, it is exactly what Arizona will need from Stanton if they hope raise their first Conference Champions banner in over five years.
Moving past the halfway point of the season, about the only consistency shown out of the Cardinals so far is the ability to win while sustaining the loss of key players. “Injuries happen to everybody,” said Head Coach Bruce Arians in an interview with Peter King of Sports Illustrated. He goes on to point out that losses from free-agency also “happen to everybody” and that he has always and will always continue to preach on how the “most valuable player” on his team will be the one who will replace the big name players after they get injured.
This sentiment certainly holds true for the red birds as they have won without last year’s starting linebackers Daryl Washington (suspension) and Karlos Dansby (free-agency), starting defensive end Darnell Dockett (season-ending injury) and opposite end Calais Campbell, who was injured for nearly a month. Now with Carson Palmer going down for what looks like a season-ending injury, Stanton has already shown Arizona fans in his first three games as starter that he has the potential to continue this successful trend of “next man up.”
In his first game as starter versus the New York Giants, Stanton was 14 for 29 and threw for just 167 yards. As expected from a quarterback that hadn’t started a game in over three seasons, it was a rusty start to say the least. However, in his second game playing at home against the San Francisco 49ers, things began to click. In that game, he threw for 244 yards, 2 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He finished with a 92.2 QBR and the Cardinals won 23-14. The following week against the Broncos on the road, he struggled again. Stanton completed just 11 of 26 pass attempts, throwing for 118 yards before getting injured in the third quarter. His return to starter in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Rams proved to be a most valiant one. He completed three-of-five passes for 85 yards, which included a game-changing 48-yard strike to John Brown.
For Stanton, a 49.5 season completion percentage is certainly nothing to write home about. However, there is one number in his season statistics that are: zero. That is how many interceptions the backup-turned-hopeful season savior has thrown on the season. And, with the Arizona Cardinals defense ranking in the top five in points/game (18.9), rushing yards allowed/game (78.6) and forced turnovers (19), the battle for field position and timely- or costly- turnovers will be a major key to winning for the Cardinals moving forward.
It is nearly impossible to imagine Stanton playing seven more games without an interception or to average 244 yards and two touchdowns per game, as seen against San Francisco. However, if Stanton can find a happy medium between his good and not-so-good games, consistently putting the Cardinals defense and special teams in a position to make a big play or win a game, the wins for Arizona will surely continue to pile up.
Arians said in the same interview with Peter King that with Drew Stanton, they can win the Super Bowl. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
The Arizona Cardinals still have the tools to win without Palmer, as shown in their fourth quarter comeback with Stanton at the helm. But it will rely heavily on Stanton finding consistency by keeping offensive turnovers down, winning the battle of field position and timely scoring. This theory should be tested this upcoming week when Arizona plays host to the NFC North division-leading Detroit Lions (7-2). This game is sure to be a slugfest, as the Lions rank in the top five in just about every defensive category, and it will definitely test the resolve of the Cardinals newest quarterback. If Stanton can find some consistency in this next game and lead the Cards to another big victory, fans should refuse to balk from Arians’ Super Bowl statement.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer