Arizona offense shows flashes of potential

SARASOTA, Fla. -- For 5 minutes, 41 seconds last Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals’ offense looked unbeatable.

Yes, that good.

It was methodical and precise, giving quarterback Carson Palmer enough time to target five different receivers and march the Cardinals 80 yards for a touchdown.

For 5 minutes, 41 seconds, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome went silent, watching a drive unfold that was expected under first-year Arizona coach Bruce Arians. But for the next 54:19, the Cardinals looked like a different team, stuck in neutral while their tires spun in the mud.

The flash of offense showed this team has what it takes to execute, to drive, to score. But it showed the Cardinals need to figure out a way to do it consistently. They'll hope to see improvement on Sunday at Tampa Bay.

“When you go in and you score really fast you feel like the points are just going to keep coming and when they don’t, it can be very frustrating,” Palmer said. “You got to do everything you can to not let that frustrate you. You got to continue to [play] whatever position you’re playing, to go through your reads, go through your mechanics to play and not think about, ‘Well we could’ve done this or should’ve done this or didn’t take advantage of this opportunity.

“You can’t dwell on the past or think about the past. You got to keep thinking about the next play or the next drive.”

But when the Cardinals started fast in that stadium against that team, the memories came flooding back. But no one on this overhauled roster expected a repeat of 2010, when Tim Hightower ripped a 70-yard touchdown from scrimmage on the first play of divisional game. The Cardinals lost 45-14.

“We didn’t carry our water,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “[But] you’re definitely encouraged. You give Coach Arians an ability to script a first series and it’s pretty tough to deal with him. He’s a mastermind in terms of that.”

There’s not one thing to work on. It’s a combination of dropped passes, missed assignments, bad routes, poor mechanics, missed blocks. And it’s not just one player, Palmer said. It’s a team-wide effort.

But it’s an all-or-nothing situation. There’s no in between scenario for the Cardinals, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. If the offense marches to the red zone and doesn’t score, it won’t sit well with Goodwin. It’s either Arizona scores points or it doesn't, he added.

Consistency is easy to talk about, Goodwin discussed this week. But it’s another animal to tame in reality.

Goodwin saw what everyone at home and inside the dome saw: An offense that can score when it wants to. He saw it again early in the fourth when Palmer put together a string of passes to Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd before throwing an interception.

Despite the turnover, the offense regained some form it briefly exhibited in the first quarter, but last Sunday’s game produced a motto of sorts for this offense:

“Start fast, finish strong, don’t let up,” Goodwin said. “I think throughout the first three regular-season games, you’ve seen our offense -- when it’s clicking, it’s clicking but when it’s off, it’s off.

“You got to make sure it’s on point this week.”