Aug 24, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) calls a play in the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Andy Dalton vs. Carson Palmer won’t match up with the great Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning matchups of the past, but tonight’s Sunday Night football clash could feature the best quarterback matchup of the 2015 season.
On one end, visiting quarterback Andy Dalton has played at an All Pro-caliber level on a weekly basis, leaving fans and analysts in awe of his incredible offseason progress and certain of his status as one of the league’s top 10 quarterbacks. Dalton has improved his footwork, decision-making and even arm strength–and behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, the Bengals’ signal-caller has gained confidence.
Dalton has thrown for 2,423 yards, tossed 18 touchdowns and has only thrown five picks. His 8.19 yards per attempt ranks fourth among quarterbacks, and he has only taken 15 sacks all season.
The Red Rifle, Carson Palmer‘s successor, has already had more success in Cincinatti than the Bengals’ former quarterback ever had in the Queen City, earning two Pro Bowl nods and posting a 48-24-1 record as a Bengal (Palmer went 46-51 during his tenure in Cincinnati).
On the other end, Carson Palmer’s career rejuvenation has been as surprising as Dalton’s. The former Bengal is playing just as well as–if not better than–Dalton, throwing for 2,749 yards, 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Palmer was once a very turnover-prone quarterback, but the veteran has done a great job controlling the ball and making good reads.
While Palmer never reached “elite” status in Cincinnati like players, coaches and fans in Cincinnati had hoped, he’s come as close as it gets to elite this season in the desert. Palmer should be extra motivated to take down his former team and show the Bengals what they’re missing out on.
What makes this quarterback matchup even more enticing are the arsenals of weapons lining up out wide for each of these two teams.
Dalton’s weapons out wide have been fantastic through nine games. Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green are having Pro Bowl-caliber seasons–Eifert leads the league with nine touchdowns, while Green has quietly accumulated a team-high 769 yards along with four touchdowns. In addition, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu have both proven to be impact contributors in both the passing and running games. Even running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill have made an impact, teaming up to catch 34 passes.
And Arizona’s receiving corps is just as potent. Along with Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald is defying his age and having a career year out wide, racking up 836 yards through the air and catching seven touchdowns. John Brown and Michael Floyd have teamed up to become the NFL’s best pair of deep threats, catching a combined eight touchdowns in 16 collective games. Even at tight end, former Bengal Jermaine Gresham is finally coming around and ready to make an impact. And the Cardinals’ three running backs–Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington and David Johnson–have combined to catch 29 passes, scoring two touchdowns in the process.
Both of these high-flying passing attacks will face a daunting task this week in trying to squeeze their way past two of the league’s best defenses, so the quarterback play on each side is going to be critical.
Michael Floyd and John Brown are doubtful for Sunday night’s action with hamstring injuries, which could leave Carson Palmer hamstrung; he’ll need someone to step up and make some plays if his deep threats miss the game. How about the former punching bag of the Bengals’ fan base? Jermaine Gresham will be itching to show his former team that they’re missing out on something, even if his replacement may be the better of the two players.
With such an enticing quarterback matchup featuring one of the best narratives of the 2015 season, some of the most exciting pass-catchers in all of football, two stingy defenses and two excellent quarterbacks, the matchup between Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer looks like a potential candidate to be the best game of the year.
It’s safe to say that this week, I’ll be waiting all day for a Sunday night.
I’m excited to be in attendance tonight–be sure to follow me on Twitter to see what’s going on at field level! Who Dey, everybody!