By Nick Shook
Around The NFL Writer
Read full post on NFL.com
Carson Palmer’s career ended with an interception — and a broken arm.
On the surface, it seemed fitting a team that struggled to protect Palmer would see its starter knocked out for the season when it failed to pick up a blitz. Ironically, though, a running back (Adrian Peterson) missed the block that sent Palmer to the ground, where he suffered the broken arm that ended his final season in the NFL.
No matter the culprit, one of the offseason priorities of the Cardinals was improving the offensive line. A remake of the unit has changed the 2017 Week 7 lineup of D.J. Humphries, Alex Boone, A.Q. Shipley, Earl Watford and Jared Veldheer to a new five of Humphries, Mike Iupati, Mason Cole, Justin Pugh and Andre Smith.
Only one of the former five — Humphries — remains in the new lineup. Shipley would have returned, but a torn ACL ended his season before the Cardinals took the field for their first preseason game Saturday.
The same contest offered the first look at Arizona’s remade line, faced with an early test against the Los Angeles Chargers‘ solid front four, which presented a formidable challenge even without Joey Bosa. Cole, a rookie replacement for Shipley, did a good job in the process, twice demonstrating an ability to fire off the ball and drive his man off the line of scrimmage.
Arizona enjoyed early success on its opening drive thanks to the new group, with double teams clearing wide lanes for David Johnson to run through to consecutive 14-yard gains before he returned to his sideline bubble wrap. On Johnson’s second run, every front-side Chargers defender was driven at least a yard beyond the line of scrimmage when Johnson hit the hole. Cole and Iupati did an excellent job of moving Brandon Mebane out of his assigned gap, driving the defensive tackle two full yards off the ball before Johnson even hit the hole.
Humphries was equally as effective in the run and pass game, showing a good pass blocking set and standing firm after Melvin Ingram pushed him back slightly. The result was Sam Bradford‘s lone completion, a six-yard connection with Larry Fitzgerald.
Cole was also effective on reach blocks, consistently stepping out in front of Mebane to mostly successful results. Iuptai and Pugh both pulled and executed blocks that cleared lanes for backup running back Chase Edmonds, who later owned one of the first highlights of the preseason with his never-say-die push into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
But for as successful as the starting unit was, the second group was equally as bad when protecting rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. Former third-string center Daniel Munyer (since elevated to second-string as a result of Shipley’s injury) struggled with shotgun snaps, and the rest of the group failed to stymie Los Angeles’ pass rush, leaving Rosen frequently under duress and tainting his preseason debut.
Arizona wasn’t the only team to struggle with backups — ask Baker Mayfield how well his guys protected him in New York — but one squad’s starting unit has inspired concern after just two possessions.
Fresh off a career year, Case Keenum is the new man under center in Denver. His first action in his new uniform didn’t produce an encouraging result, with much of the blame due to the five in front of him.
A look at the tape confirms a frequent issue with Denver: The interior, buoyed by Ronald Leary and Matt Paradis, is reliable. Garett Bolles is the franchise left tackle Denver needed. But right tackle remains an issue, which GM John Elway — who rightfully receives flak for struggling to find a franchise quarterback — has yet to fix with a viable solution.
In 2017, Elway attempted to remedy the situation with veterans Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson. Neither worked out, which wasn’t surprising, considering Denver got a look at Watson’s struggles in Week 17 of the previous season when the tackle, then an Oakland Raider, replaced the injured Donald Penn and failed to adequately protect the passer.
This time around, Elway has turned to Veldheer, who was less than effective with the aforementioned Arizona in 2017. His same struggles cropped up in a less-than-obvious form on Saturday.
During Keenum’s short time in the preseason opener, he frequently felt pressure from the right side. First, it was Veldheer getting pushed back into Keenum’s kitchen by reserve end Tashawn Bower, resulting in an errant attempt thrown toward Andy Janovich. Later, it was right guard Connor McGoverndropping back to pick up the free-rushing Bower, getting pushed into Keenum, whose pass was dropped by running back Royce Freeman.
That was it for Keenum, though the reserves didn’t make Paxton Lynch‘s time on the field any easier. Lynch threw an interception on his first attempt just before he was leveled by linebacker Zaire Anderson.
How the Broncos fare in 2018 will again depend on the performance of the quarterback, who will be Keenum as long as things hold. But what is really more important is how the front five block for Keenum, who enjoyed reliable protection during his banner season of 2017 in Minnesota. If Denver doesn’t solve things — especially on the right side of the line — we’ll see more of the same frustrating offensive ineptitude in the Mile High City, while a fellow veteran in a new location (Arizona) will fare better with what appears to be an improved group.