MIKE O'HARA

OPPONENT BREAKDOWN: Larry Fitzgerald a happy man again … which is bad news for defenses

Posted Sep 12, 2013

With a new head coach in Bruce Arians and a veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald has renewed his spirit and his stats line.

Larry Fitzgerald is a happy man again, and that's bad news for defenses that have to stop him.

After suffering through a season of frustration created by deterioration and ineptitude at the quarterback position, the Arizona Cardinals' offseason acquisition of Carson Palmer has let Fitzgerald display the talents that have made him a consistent Pro Bowl receiver.

Fitzgerald was back to his old level last week, but it wasn't enough to make the Cardinals winners. He caught eight passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-24 loss to the Rams.

Larry FitzgeraldWR Larry Fitzgerald (Photo: AP Images)

There is more to come from Fitzgerald as he and Palmer get more time together in game situations, and assuming the Cardinals can shore up their offensive line.

Bruce Arians, Arizona's first-year head coach, acquired Palmer in a trade with the Raiders and signed Drew Stanton, a former backup with the Lions, as a free agent to be the No. 2 quarterback.

Arians saw the impact immediately on Arizona's offense, and Fitzgerald in particular.

"I think it renewed his enthusiasm for the game," Arians said in a conference call interview. "He's always been an unbelievable worker in the classroom and on the field, but I think he's having more fun now.

"The quarterback situation with all the injuries here was in a flux situation. To stabilize it with Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, I thought the quarterback room became quality right away. I think that permeates all the way through our football team. We've got a chance."

The Lions are well aware that defending Fitzgerald is a priority in Sunday's road game against the Cardinals. It's a key element in this week's Opponent Breakdown:

"His first game is already two times as much as his first game last year," safety Louis Delmas said. "I'm pretty sure the quarterback and him feel comfortable together, and I'm pretty sure he appreciates his quarterback a lot more."

Fitzgerald didn't catch a TD pass until the third game last year. He finished the season with 71 catches for 798 yards and four TDs.

The four TD catches were the fewest of his career for a season. The only season he had fewer yards was as a rookie. The 71 catches ranked third on his low-meter.

The whole offense and team suffered from the lack of competent quarterbacking. Four Cardinals QBs combined to throw 11 TD passes. By comparison, six individual players had at least 11 TD catches.

Palmer and Fitzgerald made a connection early, and they worked hard to improve it. They continued to train together after the offseason workout program ended.

"We spent as much time as we could, as many balls as I could throw and as many routes as he could run," Palmer said. "He's one of the very handful of elite players in this league – a true pro, a very smart player.

"He really does everything very, very well. He's so well rounded across the board at doing it all that it makes him very difficult to stop."

New look: The Cardinals are rebuilding from last year's 5-11 record, with a new coaching staff and a change in systems. They've gone from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 and employ the vertical passing game Arians employed previously at Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

"Different schemes across the board," said Lions Coach Jim Schwartz. "Different offensive schemes. Different defensive schemes, and different special teams schemes."

On the line: Three of the four sacks Arizona allowed last  week were given up by left tackle Levi Brown. He is coming back from a triceps injury that ended his season after one game.

"He had a tough game," Arians said. "Any time you're an offensive lineman and you win 36 and lose four, you stink. That's where he's at right now."

Two free agents signed in the offseason are new starters up front. Right guard Paul Fanaika made his first pro start last week. Eric Winston, a seven-year starter at right tackle for Houston and Kansas City, was signed to play right tackle.

Cardinals game review: The Rams scored a touchdown, two-point conversion and two field goals in the final 15 minutes in last week's win over the Cardinals. Greg Zuerlein's 48-yard field goal with 40 seconds won it.

The Cardinals had a chance to mount a winning drive of their own with the ball at their 33 with 3:10 left and the score tied. They went three and out and punted.