Last season the Raiders – led by the ever-confident Hue Jackson – executed the trade of several seasons by acquiring the rights to Carson Palmer for no less than a first and second round pick in the 2012 and 2013 drafts, respectively. Palmer started the season in a rough position, coming in unprepared to play and throwing 3 INTs the next Sunday against Kansas City before cramming as much of the offense as he could the following bye week. With so inauspicious a start, it seemed a worthwhile question to see how he looked at season's end – as a barometer for what he does well and what he does poorly.
I took a look at every offensive play from Week 16 against Kansas City and Week 17 against San Diego to get a sense of how he had grown over the season with the Raiders.
First, an overview:
Palmer ended the year with a very respectable, 60.7% completions, good for about midpoint in the league and in the company of other above average QBs like Matt Ryan (61.3%) and Super Bowl winning QB Eli Manning (61%).
Palmer also finished with more INT's than TD passes – a 16/13 ratio. I think there are some mitigating factors, however – including his lack of training camp, not knowing the offense's players, plays, nor vernacular, and stepping in mid-season when most defenses had already gelled. Proof of this comes in the fact that six of his interceptions happened in his first two games. All in all, he showed flashes of what he could bring to the Raiders in the coming years.
One of the concerns when the Raiders traded for Palmer was the velocity of his throws. In 2008, Palmer suffered an elbow injury that eventually was diagnosed as a partially torn ligament and tendon. He had two choices: Tommy John surgery on the elbow or rest it in the hope that the tear would heal well. He chose the latter, simply to rest and hope his arm would fully heal.
The two seasons that followed (2009 and 2010) were some of his worst, statistically. When the Raiders traded for him, he had not put those questions to rest. So, I was surprised that what really jumped out on the tape was how well his arm has responded. Palmer showed rare arm strength and touch on his deep throws. He had an uncanny ability to get both good speed and loft on his throws.
Here is a clip of a throw he made to Denarius Moore in the third quarter in Week 17 against San Diego:
In this clip, Palmer takes a seven step drop, gives a pump fake to freeze the safety, then unleashes a deep bomb that drops right into Moore's outstretched hands where he can accelerate into the catch and continue down the field for a huge play.
In this next clip, which also took place in week 17, the Raiders were at third and goal at about the San Diego three yard line. For this play, the Raiders were lined up in a trips formation to the right of the formation and Michael Bush was in the backfield. This left Heyward-Bey alone split out to the left of the formation. In a situation like this, there are two plays that the DB is worried about from DHB – a slant or an out route. The CB is lined up on DHB's outside shoulder to play the out route and the safety has come up to either play in run support if it comes his way or to take away the slant if DHB comes towards him.
Because the play call is, indeed, an out route to DHB and the CB is playing that route, only a perfectly placed ball will result in a TD, here. Palmer takes a three step drop and delivers a great throw that the CB – who has good coverage – cannot block and drops it right down into DHB's outstretched hands. Only a QB with a really good touch on the ball can make those throws. Palmer has shown that he has that touch.
Not that everything is great about Palmer's game. He clearly had issues with interceptions. There were two main reasons that Palmer threw his INTs, in general. They are exhibited in the next two videos.
In the first video which took place in the first quarter of week 16, Palmer lines up against a five man line of which four rushed the QB.
The pocket collapsed around Palmer and instead of throwing the ball away or taking a sack, he tried to force the pass to Kevin Boss and instead threw it directly to the defense.
Many of the INTs thrown by Palmer were because he was trying to do too much and he ended up throwing to the wrong spot or throwing while being hit. A positive caveat, though: Palmer did seem to respond to Hue Jackson's emphasis on throwing the ball away. There were several notable passes in which he threw the ball away out of bounds in week 17 when he was pressured. A throw-away is infinitely preferable to an INT, and with some coaching Palmer seemed to make this a point of emphasis which is a definite positive.
Most of the remaining INTs were because of the second reason, shown in our next video, which seems to just be poor coverage recognition.
In the play, Palmer takes a drop from under center and throws to the WR who is split out right. But Palmer doesn't correctly read the defense which drops into a zone coverage, and he throws the ball, again, right to a defensive back.
Palmer has been in the league for almost 10 years now. If he's not reading coverages correctly, new coaching or an increased coaching emphasis probably won't help much. What will help is a good scheme and well-designed plays combined with better execution.
The new scheme will come courtesy of Raiders' new/old offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
To fans' joy and chagrin, Hue was a big believer in taking risks. He liked to call a lot of downfield shots, reverses, and screens. He liked trick plays. Hue's play calling was a very boom or bust mentality. Knapp is a much more conservative play caller. He calls a lot of runs and also runs a lot out of traditional formations like the "I" formation. Because of this, accuracy is going to be very important to success with Knapp. The ball will need to be on the money, as they say.
Palmer does a great job of leading receivers already. The next video shows Marcel Reece flaring out of the backfield left:
Palmer does a really good job of leading him in stride for a modest gain, moving the chains. In general, video showed Palmer being able to put the ball in tight windows and able to lead the wide receivers and backs so that they didn't have to break stride.
That ability to fit the ball into tight windows shows up in this next play, too - a deep pass to Kevin Boss that ended in a TD against the Chargers in week 17.
The clip shows another pleasant surprise that showed up on tape - that Palmer moves very well. He'll never juke and run like Tim Tebow or Michael Vick, but he's not a statue like Drew Bledsoe or Peyton Manning out there, either. He does more than move around in the pocket, though he does that well, too. He can also extend plays and create plays with his legs. I
In this play, Palmer takes a seven step drop and then sees the pocket collapsing around him and simply runs up a few steps where the RG lined up and is able to make the TD throw to Kevin Boss despite the fact that there were four San Diego defenders in the vicinity.
The next clip exhibits more of Palmer's movement skills.
Instead of just moving the pocket, Palmer again shows good pocket awareness by stepping up into an open area when the pass rush is approaching him, but instead of releasing the ball right away he moves along the line of scrimmage to his right and unleashes a great ball to Denarius Moore (who unfortunately drops it). Palmer reminds me of Big Ben in this clip because he holds the ball behind the line of scrimmage and moves laterally until a receiver gets open. That ability to prolong plays until receivers shake their man drives defenses crazy.
If Carson was reminiscent of Big Ben in that last clip, though, the next is vintage Roethlisberger. In the clip, you can see that LB Tamba Hali, 91, is crowding the line of scrimmage on the defense's right side.
At the snap, Hali engages LT Veldheer momentarily, then shoots to his left because LG Wisniewski has been pushed back by the DT. Hali basically uses Wiz and the DT like a pick in basketball on Veldheer, who does his best to pursue but cannot keep up.
Hali bears down on Palmer who is surprisingly able to move to his right and shrug off Hali's rush – no small feat. Palmer holds the ball and runs laterally towards the sideline and draws the D towards him. FB Tonga releases his man and makes his way up field. Palmer hits him in stride and Tonga takes it for a first down. Because of Palmer's ability to move, he's able to turn what looks like a sack into a first down instead.
After years of poor to average quarterback play in Oakland, Palmer looks like the real deal. While the Raider gave up a lot in the trade to acquire him, I can see why Hue liked him.
I thought that Jason Campbell was a good quarterback, but he checked down far too often and his accuracy on deep balls was poor – he consistently mis-targeted receivers who had beaten their man.
Palmer appears to be the best QB that the Raiders have had since Gannon, which is good news for the success of the team. If Palmer can stay healthy and the team continues to develop around him, the Raiders will make a playoff push in 2012.
Follow me on Twitter: @AsherMathews