Raiders vs. Cardinals: Breaking Down Key Performances from Arizona's 31-27 Win

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterAugust 20, 2012

Aug. 17, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals fullback (35) Anthony Sherman is congratulated by (11) Larry Fitzgerald after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Oakland Raiders during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

After two weeks of embarrassing play on the road, did the Cardinals' struggles magically disappear once they headed back home to the desert? Not exactly, yet there were a slew of improvements to build upon—something we didn't see in Week 2.

The biggest improvement came from the team's first-team defense, a unit that had failed to show up previously. Their unwillingness to stop anyone was quickly becoming a concern of Ray Horton's. But the spirited first-half effort that saw the Cardinals force three turnovers was an encouraging sign of life for the second-year defensive coordinator.   

However, not everything was sunshine and rainbows for particular groups and players. Just ask Kevin Kolb. He was called skittish and scared by Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. That according to NFC West writer Mike Sando:

Tommy Kelly runs off field and says of Kolb: "That boy's scared." This according to Raiders preseason TV team.

— Mike Sando, (@espn_nfcwest) August 18, 2012

Let's observe the most effective and ineffective players from Friday night's game. 


Quarterback Play: Kevin Kolb and John Skelton

You know when someone says to you, I have good news and bad news, which one do you want first? Well, I have the same scenario here with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Considering I always like to end on a lighter note, I will give you the bad news first. 

Thanks to Patrick Peterson and the special teams unit, Kolb and the first-team offense started the game with favorable field position that eventually led to a Cardinals touchdown. Nonetheless, success faded quickly as the Raiders turned up the heat.

Unlike last week in Kansas City, it's hard to be critical of his throws as he threw short passes on checkdown routes. However, my biggest gripe was that he held on to the ball far too long which caused the offense to stall when it could have picked up more yards.

On this 3rd-and-goal play from the 14-yard line, Kolb had high eyes locked in on Todd Heap down the seam for three seconds. And by the time he looked him off, Raiders defenders were pulling at his jersey.

If he wouldn't have stayed with his initial read so long, he could have either hit Early Doucet or Javarris James. Doucet was running a drag route that proved to be wide open once he cleared linebacker Phillip Wheeler and James leaked out of the backfield along the sideline uncovered. 

Even though Kolb eventually hit James, it proved to be too late as he came down out of bounds. Kolb should have thrown him the ball at the 20-yard line; instead the ball didn't arrive until he was standing on the 13. Seven yards too late.

That's why it's so important to progress and move through your reads quickly, an area Skelton thrives at in comparison. 

Take a look at this 1st-and-10 play from the first-team offense when Skelton is in the game and pay attention to his split second reads.

The Raiders are in a press zone scheme, which requires jamming the wide receivers off the line of scrimmage. Skelton's first read is to the right wide receiver who is struggling to get off the jam. 

So, what does he do when he sees that the wideout is struggling? He changes his vision, he doesn't wait for the receiver to get off the jam, he moves into his next progression. Skelton moves on to his next progression, in which he throws Heap open on a beautiful timing route. 

Right now Skelton just sees more of the field, he isn't rattled and he isn't holding onto the ball for an eternity. There's no way Kolb ever gets the quarterback job back in Arizona as long as John Skelton's there.


Special Teams Ace: Justin Bethel 

Special teams standout Justin Bethel locked himself up a roster spot with his monster game against the Oakland Raiders. The Cardinals knew what he brought to the table as he blocked nine kicks in college, but to think his impact would be felt so quickly in Arizona was another thing. Three blocked kicks in three weeks is not a bad way to play yourself on the roster.

He made this week's blocked punt look all to easy as he used his pure speed to jet inside and take it right off the punter's foot. After taking it off his foot, he went in for the scoop and score.

Bethel did have this to say via when he was asked after the game why he is such a successful special teams player: 

I don't know. It's hard to explain, I just run. I know where I'm suppose to go. I think I'm so confident in that I just know what I'm suppose to do. I believe in my ability to get to where I'm suppose to be at and I think that's why I can make plays.

If you didn't have the pleasure of seeing his blocked field goal during the Hall of Fame game, check it out below. Just like on the punt block, Bethel's timing is impeccable. He came around edge with speed and laid out to get his left hand on the ball.

Great special teams players are hard to find and they usually stick around for a long time. With Bethel's speed off the corner and Calais Campbell's big wingspan, Arizona will look to improve on the five blocked kicks it had last year.


The Debut: Ryan Williams

Even though the Cardinals struggled in pass protection for a majority of the game, that didn't stop 2011 second-round draft selection Ryan Williams who made his first appearance since tearing his patellar tendon 364 days ago. 

It was safe to assume that his outstanding vision would still be there, but would his initial burst and ability to cut be as quick? Doubting these skills were only natural as a torn patellar tendon is a horrific injury, but Williams proved all the doubters wrong as he looked fluid and smooth in and out of his cuts.

And as I mentioned above, the vision did not leave him. On his longest run of the night Williams takes a misdirection run off the backside for 15 yards. When he initially makes the first cut, he has to choose the correct hole to hit. He has the option to bolt up towards the sideline where Larry Fitzgerald is throwing a fantastic block, or he can plant and cut to kick it up field and risk out running Rolando McClain. So, what does he do? He follows the inside track by planting on his surgically repaired knee and hitting the juice, which eventually puts him at the six-yard line. 

If Williams can maintain his health, there's no reason he won't be handcuffing Beanie Wells for carries. 


What Happened?: William Gay

When Arizona went out and got some much-needed cornerback help after Richard Marshall departed to Miami, I thought William Gay was an upgrade for a couple of different reasons.

The biggest reason being his fit with Ray Horton and his scheme from their time together in Pittsburgh, but after three preseason games, things aren't looking so hot. At times it appears as if he is lost on his assignment. Furthermore, his speed in and out of his breaks make it seem like he is in quicksand.

This glaring weakness was most evident in the first quarter when he was matched up against Rod Streater in the slot. He had press coverage on Streater with no jam off the line. 

However, that may have proved to be the wrong coverage as the play called for Streater to run a one route. When the ball is snapped Gay flips his hips and immediately gets inside position taken over, which in turn never allows him to recover. It seems like he was hoping to play the trail position the whole time, which is fine if you can keep up. Only he just couldn't keep up. 

Rookie Jamell Fleming was drafted in the third round for a reason. He may prove to be a better slot option as the Cardinals hope Greg Toler can return to action on the outside, sooner rather than later.