Cardinals-Raiders: Five Keys for Arizona to Beat Oakland
This has been one of the worst weeks for the Cardinals since the week following the loss to New Orleans in last year's playoffs.
The questions circled:
What happened to the defense?
When will we see Max Hall?
Will Beanie Wells finally revive the run game?
What is coach Ken Whisenhunt thinking?
Are the old Cardinals back?
How badly will they lose to the Raiders?
Before you ask these questions and go into panic mode, remember one thing:
These are the Oakland Raiders we're talking about.
Sorry Raiders fans.
The same Rams the Cardinals beat on the road, the Raiders barely beat at home.
But most of the experts are picking the Raiders.
So here are some keys for the Cardinals to beat the Raiders, other than the obvious "Don't get so many stupid penalties"...
1. Forget Who You're Playing
This is definitely a contradiction of what I just said that, in fact, these are the Raiders.
But to the Cardinals, these had better be the Saints they're playing.
The Cardinals have been notorious, as many NFL teams are, for playing to the level of their opponent.
If they do that, they'll definitely be in danger of losing this game.
But the Raiders are not as bad as the Raiders of the past few years. Darren McFadden does present problems for the Cardinals, and Bruce Gradkowski isn't as bad as you think.
But if the Cardinals play as though they're playing, say, the Colts, they shouldn't have a problem winning.
2. Establish the Run Early
I know—this is football 101.
But on a team like the Cardinals, with questions at QB, this is something that becomes a must.
As incentive, the Cardinals look to get Beanie Wells back this week.
He may only get five to 10 touches, but that may be enough to take pressure off Derek Anderson.
Plus, Tim Hightower has done fairly well in his place, and against a Raiders D that got shredded by Chris Johnson in Week 1, that trend should continue.
So, memo to the coaching staff: Get Wells, Hightower, and LaRod Stephens-Howling and give them the ball early and often.
3. Blitz Bruce Gradkowski Early and Often
I know it's now in the Cardinals' DNA to blitz anyway, but in this game it will come in handy.
Unlike the previous game, where the opposing team had an all-star receiver (Roddy White), this game doesn't feature that kind of issue for the Cards.
Although much has been made of the affect Bruce Gradkowski has had on the Raiders' aerial attack (he and Louis Murphy seem to get along quite well), the reality of it is the Raiders don't have a dangerous pass receiver.
Actually, their best receivers are probably their running back (Darren McFadden) and their tight end (Zach Miller).
So if I'm the Cardinals, I'm sending at least five guys every time at Gradkowski.
Heck, send eight and leave everyone in single coverage.
4. Don't Underestimate Darren McFadden
This kind of goes hand in hand with my first reason, but McFadden right now seems to be the center of the offense for the Raiders.
Sure, he got many yards in garbage time in Week 1, and last week he was playing the Rams.
But this was once a highly touted back out of Arkansas.
Injuries and mediocrity around him have slowed him down, but make no mistake: He is a talented back.
Add to the mix that the Raiders might get Michael Bush back from injury this week, and the Raiders look to have a formidable rushing attack.
Last week, we all know Arizona had struggles stopping the run. If they do again this week, those "Raiders" will have no trouble stealing a win.
5. Special Teams Need to Continue to Perform
Amazingly enough, the Cardinals' special teams have been the most consistent part of their team.
In Week 1, it was a blocked field goal that helped the Cardinals beat the Rams.
Even last week, they returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Of course, it was negated by penalty.
Even though the punt returns haven't been great this season, Andre Roberts should get his feet wet this weekend.
If the Cardinals can make a few good plays on special teams, or even a big one, it will definitely help a sputtering offense.