Given that the Cardinals looked pretty impressive on offense without standout wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, that Matt Leinart looks like an excellent quarterback of the future, and that the Raider secondary is substandard at best, this looks like a match-up that heavily favors Arizona.
The starting cornerback duo of Fabian Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha is underwhelming at best. Since the Cardinals play a three wide receiver set, with Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson, and Troy Walters being the likely starters, it means they can further plumb the depths (or lack of depth) in the Oakland secondary. Behind Washington and Asomugha are Stanford Routt and Tyrone Poole. Routt is a second year player that, like his mates in the back four, is a tremendous athlete that is still raw and learning the position. Poole has been in the league a long time and has always excelled as a third or fourth cornerback. However, his best years are two or three seasons behind him and there's a reason he's making the veteran minimum.
Regular readers of this space know that the size, speed, and general athleticism of the Cardinals wideouts pose match-up issues for just about every team in the NFL. The issues will be especially present against Oakland, with short armed Scott Schweigart and rookie not-yet-phenom Michael Huff at the safety positions. Teams have had success throwing short, throwing deep, and throwing all routes in between against the Raider pass defense this season and Sunday will be no different.
The corollary with that statement, though, has always win, "if the quarterback gets enough time." With the lack of talent and puss rushing prowess along Oakland's front four (Derrick Burgess notwithstanding), Leinart should have plenty of time to scan the field and find the open man.
Anyone who has watched the Cardinals play this year knows that the offensive line has SEVERE issues. One of the contributing factors to their poor play thus far, though, has been the defensive lines they have faced. Chicago, Seattle, and Atlanta are all counted as having top ten defensive lines, and the Kansas City and St. Louis front fours are largely underrated. This week, the offensive line gets a bit of break, as they face off against a dreadful Raiders defensive line.
At end, Oakland does have some quality. Derrick Burgess posted double-digit sacks last year and Tyler Brayton is a former first round pick with great size (6'6" 280) for an end and an outstanding motor. Burgess is more of a pass rushing specialist, while Brayton is a solid two-way defender. Where the wheels start to come off for the Raiders is up the middle.
The point here is not to make fun of a Raiders squad that has only one fewer victory than do the Cardinals. Well, it's not the entire point. The point is that Arizona's line matches up very well against Oakland's front four. If coach Dennis Green was looking for a game to showcase all the weaponry he possesses on offense, this is it. There should be holes opening up in the running game and sufficient time in the pocket for Leinart in the passing game.
Edgerrin James might actually break the century mark in this game (especially if the Cardinals decide to actually run the ball with the lead late in the game). After the collection of try hard players, washed up former stars, and pass rushers on the front four, the Raiders have rookie Thomas Howard, second year player out of powerhouse UTEP Kirk Morrison, and fourth year veteran (the graybeard of the linebacking corps) Sam Williams. All of these players are young, athletic, and fast, but have a tendency to be overly aggressive and are certainly not sure tacklers. James eats guys like this up.
After several consecutive weeks of not seeing any daylight and having to contend with Pro Bowl caliber players once he did, Edge gets to feast on a lackluster Oakland front four and a markedly worse group of linebackers. He should have large holes to run through, be able to make guys miss once he reaches the second level, and actually break free for some long runs in this game.
The first six games of the season, James was stranded in the desert (sometimes literally) without any oasis in sight. If he's unable to rack up big yards against this front seven, he never will with this offensive line and this offense.
I realize that I say this after the Cardinals have fired their offensive coordinator, but they really just need to continue to do what they've been doing. They have had considerable success early in games against defenses that are far superior to Oakland's. They need to keep mixing things up in the passing game with short, intermediate, and deep passes to their talented group of wide receivers. They need to continue to be committed to running the football (AGAIN late in the game to protect a big lead).
Keeping things status quo on Sunday will be a refreshing change of pace for a group of players that are probably becoming accustomed to losing. They'll run the same plays they've always run, but be more successful. They'll try to pound the ball in the 3rd and 4th quarters in an attempt to run out the clock with a lead and find that holes are still opening up for James to run through.
This game could be the very tonic the Cardinals need to salvage their season. The Raiders home crowd is loud and fanatical, but they also have to realize that their team is 0-5 and the worst team, hands down, in the NFL this season. The players have tried to put on a brave face thus far this season, but, facing a 21-0 deficit in the second quarter, explosive personalities such as Randy Moss and Warren Sapp may begin to self destruct.
It's been a rough season thus far, there's no doubt about that. However, it's a long season and the Cardinals still have a shot at this point. They need to come into Oakland and execute, execute, execute. The more lopsided the outcome, the better.