By Sam McPherson
The Arizona Cardinals are the next team on the list that will try to keep the Oakland Raiders winless in 2014, and like last week’s game against the San Diego Chargers, the Silver & Black once again play host to a division leader from one of the toughest groupings in the NFL.
The Raiders came very close to knocking off the Chargers, holding a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter at the Coliseum. But alas, the Oakland defense just wore out after being on the field for over 37 minutes total in the game, and San Diego came away with a three-point win.
The Silver & Black will need another effort like the one against the Bolts in order to beat the Cardinals, a far less-talented team than San Diego—but a very strong team playing well right now, nonetheless.
Arizona is the only team to beat San Diego this year, actually, back in Week One. A 18-17 victory for the Cardinals got them off to their hot start. Currently, those birds from Phoenix are 4-1 after last week’s 30-20 win over the Washington Redskins at home.
Their other wins were over the New York Giants on the road in Week Two and the San Francisco 49ers at home in Week Three. Arizona’s one loss—and it was a big one—came at Denver, where the Cardinals lost by three touchdowns to the Broncos.
Despite the healthy 4-1 record, Arizona has outscored its opponents by just 10 points total in 2014. They’re good, but they’re not that good.
Cardinals on Offense
Arizona has had two quarterbacks play equally this year: starter Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton, filling in when Palmer was injured. Both have been successful leading the team, but the numbers edge goes to Palmer. Overall, however, Cardinals QBs—including rookie Logan Thomas—have tossed seven touchdowns and no interceptions in 2014. If the Raiders want to win, they should think about how to intercept the ball against Arizona.
The running attack boils down to one back, really: Andre Ellington. The little guy has 81 carries this year for 305 yards. That per-carry average (3.8) isn’t stellar, but Ellington can break free at any time. He’s also caught 19 passes out of the backfield, so he’s a threat in that part of the game as well.
The receiving corps has some talent: Wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd have combined for 35 receptions and and 568 yards this season. The next-level guys are wide receiver John Brown and tight end John Carlson – a combined 27 catches for 285 yards there. Yes, the Cardinals are best when throwing the ball, and they can run when they need to in order to keep a defense guessing and loose.
Fitzgerald isn’t the monster he was six years ago with Kurt Warner throwing him the ball, so the “star quality” of this offense isn’t great. But don’t underestimate the coaching staff’s wisdom here at all.
Cardinals on Defense
The nasty Arizona defense from 2013 has taken a lot of hits in terms of injuries and lost personnel. But it’s still a strong unit, as its efforts against San Diego (17 points) and San Francisco (14 points) prove. But those were home games. On the road, the Cardinals coughed up 41 points to the Broncos. The Raiders are not the Broncos, but Oakland could score on this defense at the Coliseum—more so than it might in Phoenix.
Free safety Rashad Johnson and and strong safety Tony Jefferson lead the team in tackles with 33 apiece, and right there, you know the Cardinals’ front seven is not what it used to be. Aging vet Larry Foote is the team’s top linebacker, with 31 tackles.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers leads the team with three interceptions, while Johnson has two. Linebacker Alex Okafor has two sacks. But the Arizona defense as a whole has just six QB drops on the year.
Cardinals Players to Watch
Arrington certainly is a key to beating Arizona, for if you can shut down the narrow running game the Cardinals throw out there, it forces them to pass into a defense waiting for that situation. But for the Raiders, stopping the run is still tough. Oakland faced a similar situation against San Diego, and it still gave up a 100-yard rushing day to small back who got most of the carries in the offense.
The Raiders should know how to defend Palmer, since he used to be in Silver & Black. But he’s a veteran QB who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes in this Arizona offense. If Oakland can generate a pass rush and force him to throw when he doesn’t want to, that could be a key to winning the game. However, the Raiders struggle on defense to stop even the likes of Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tannehill, remember?
On paper, the Cardinals should win, but the Raiders could extend their magic from Week Six. You never know; however they haven’t proven they can play well two games in a row yet.
Arizona has better coaching, which means their marginal edge in talent is even a broader advantage on the field due to preparation and game planning.
If Oakland can come out and play like they did against San Diego, they can keep this game close and maybe steal a win in the fourth quarter. But don’t count on that happening until the team proves it can actually do something like that.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.