The Breakdown: Cardinals 'D' vs. Raiders 'O'

The Oakland Raiders did not score a touchdown on offense this season in the month of September. This week, they face off against a Cardinals defense that didn't allow a touchdown last week to the Bears. And lost. Who will win this unlikely battle? The team that controls the edges.

Secondary:

With Jerry Porter suspended and perpetually in the dog house, the only Raiders receiver the Cardinals need to worry about happens to be one of the best in the game: Randy Moss.  For sure, Moss has had his issues on and off the field in the past and his two seasons in Oakland he hasn't been his usual, productive self, but he's still the most dangerous deep threat in the game.  To top it off, he has Andrew Walter, a big kid with a big arm, throwing the ball to him.

This should be a very deadly combination, but Walter has had issues with interceptions and fumbles since the womb, Moss has seemingly only played all out when he knows he's getting the ball, and the offensive line has had serious issues with pass protection (especially against San Diego).

Antrel Rolle needs to focus against Moss and not allow him to get a clean release from the line of scrimmage.  While the play is developing, Rolle needs to stay deep and remember that he'll have help over the top from free safety Robert Griffith (Adrian Wilson will be needed in other areas).  If need be, Arizona can roll up to three defenders over to Moss, given the fact that Alvis Whitted and the talented but fragile Ronald Curry have yet to emerge as even decent 2nd and 3rd options.

Eric Green and David Macklin should be more than sufficient options to cover Whitted and Curry one-on-one.  By focusing on Moss, the Cardinals will essentially be daring the Raiders to beat them with their other options.  Thus far this season, they haven't been able to beat anyone with all their options, so it looks like a safe bet.

Defensive Line:

The good news is that the Cardinals were able to get after Rex Grossman on Monday night.  The bad news is that they still lost.  The best news is that Oakland's offensive line isn't remotely as cohesive or talented as Chicago's.  Especially at tackle.

Robert Gallery, a man the Raiders have been moving from left to right tackle and back to left, was the second overall choice in the 2004 draft.  It appears as though Oakland has been playing musical bookends with Gallery in an attempt to hide the fact that they drafted him too early.  While he's been a reasonably solid performer, he still gets overwhelmed and flustered versus speed rushers (like Bert Berry) and has never lived up to his lofty draft status.

Right tackle Langston Walker is massive (6'8", 345) and stiff.  He's been known to completely whiff on defenders as they speed past him and isn't as effective in the run game as his size would indicate.  The interior of the line is young, athletic, and inexperienced.  They're better than the tackles, but not by much (not that that's a huge honor anyway).

Chike Okaefor and Bert Berry should have considerable success bringing pressure on Walter from the outside while Darnell Dockett and Kendrick Clancy (or rookie Gabe Watson) simply need to occupy blockers on the inside to create blitzing lanes for the linebackers (more on this below).  They should win the battles at the point of attack and contain LaMont Jordan, who has been about as effective as Edgerrin James this year.  After all, the Raiders are nowhere near as accomplished up front as the Raiders or Chiefs, and we saw what happened when those teams tried to run on the Red Birds.

And, even though they should be able to sufficiently pressure Walter with just their front four, the linebackers and Wilson need to be involved as well.

Linebackers:

Orlando Huff, Gerald Hayes, and Calvin Pace are critical to the early success of Arizona's defensive game plan.  Coordinator Clancy Pendergast (yes, he still has a job) loves to bring pressure from every direction and this game will be an excellent venue for him to show off his creativity and aggressiveness. 

Pace, Hayes, and Huff, assuming Clancy (or Watson) and Dockett can eat up space in the middle, should have numerous opportunities to get in Walter's face, hopefully creating turnovers.  When they're not blitzing with an intent to meet at the quarterback, they should fill running lanes and try to make as many plays in the backfield as possible.  While he's fast and powerful, Jordan isn't particularly shifty or explosive.  If the line, linebackers, and Wilson (also used as a blitzer up the middle) can beat him to the line of scrimmage, it's going to be a long day for LaMont Jordan and the Oakland Raiders.

Game Plan:

Pressure, pressure, pressure.  By bringing at least 5 or 6 defenders on every play and being intelligently aggressive with Moss, the Cardinals should have Walter's head on a swivel by midway through the second quarter.  It cannot be overstated that Walter is green, aggressive, and a turnover machine.  If the Cardinals are able to jump on him early and get him to commit some costly mistakes in the first quarter, they can get up big on the Raiders and never look back.

Raiders coach Art Shell is an exceptional leader and motivator, but he tends to lead by example.  As a former player, he also tends to get caught up in the emotion of the game.  This means that he will be fiery and determined if Oakland runs out to a 14-0 lead, but he'll also roll up into a ball and become nearly catatonic if he's on the wrong end of a 21-3 game.  Additionally, he's an atrocious game manager.  In the opener against San Diego, inside of two minutes with the clock running, he had his headset off and was talking to Randy Moss on the sidelines

While it's fun to bash Shell, the point is that the last thing the Cardinals want to do on Sunday is give the Raiders hope.  Shell might not be able to properly manage the clock inside two minutes, but his players will feed off his intensity and go seize the game.  Add that to the fact that Arizona has been one of the worst performing 2nd half teams in NFL history thus far this season, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Right now, there's blood in the water.  By dominating the Raiders offense early and pressuring Walter into some inadvisable decisions, the Cardinals can take the fight out of Oakland by the end of the first half and finally emerge victorious, no matter how badly they perform after halftime.


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