The Arizona Cardinals won the coin-toss, electing to receive and put the Raiders starting defense on the field first. The Raiders utilized the opportunity and used it to make a statement.
Nate Allen shows his worth
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie let go veteran safety Tyvon Branch, and instead elected to sign safety Nate Allen to a four-year, $23 million contract. Allen made a strong point to show his worth on Sunday night, and he started early.
On the opening play from the line of scrimmage, Allen showed good play recognition when Carson Palmer through a screen to the left side to the speedy Andre Ellington. Allen quickly got to the open field to make the tackle for a short gain.
Just three plays later, Allen made another big play. The veteran safety took advantage of a ball going through wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s hands, hauling in the interception along the sideline to give the ball to the Raiders offense in Cardinals territory.
But Allen wasn’t done there. With the clock ticking late in the second half, a ball soared out of Palmer’s hands and Allen came down with the high interception over the middle of the field. The former Eagle returned the ball 14 yards, back into Cardinals territory setting up another field goal to extend the Raiders lead before the first half could end.
Khalil Mack continues to dominate
The Arizona Cardinals offensive line could not contain Raiders second-year linebacker Khalil Mack, now matter what they tried. Mack was simply in another world on the field on Sunday night.
On the first play, the bulked-up Mack pressured Palmer and forced an early throw on third-down, forcing the Cardinals to punt. On the next drive, fellow linebacker Malcolm Smith blew up a running play and Mack came in and stripped the ball out of rookie running back David Johnson’s hands. The Cardinals would recover, but the play resulted in a loss of four yards and helped force a 54-yard field goal try from the infield dirt that the Cardinals missed.
Mack continued to dominate all night, even when double teamed. Fittingly, it was Mack that ended the first half by sacking Carson Palmer on the final play of the half, even while being double-teamed and appearing to be held by the right tackle. Mack finished the game with 2.0 sacks.
Denico Autry steps up in place of Justin Tuck
Second-year player Denico Autry got the start with veteran defensive end Justin Tuck out with an undisclosed injury.
Autry was active at the line of scrimmage all game, getting his hands up to bat down balls when he was unable to get to the quarterback. By my count, Autry batted down three balls at the line of scrimmage, to go with four tackles (two solo).
Autry is just another young defensive player that has shown great promise working in Ken Norton, Jr.’s scheme. If he can continue to develop, he will be another nice piece of depth on a Raiders defensive line that seems to be developing nicely.
Cornerback DJ Hayden starts strong, gets rocky later
A lot of pressure has been placed on cornerback DJ Hayden, but the young corner played well early in Sunday’s game.
Palmer and the Cardinals tested him early, looking to connect with a receiver in the end zone but Hayden kept up with him and was there to break up any potential play. The refs originally called pass interference, but later ruled the pass uncatchable.
Palmer would later test Hayden, this time deep down the right sideline to his speedy receiver John Brown. Hayden stayed with him nicely, forcing the throw to be thrown out of bounds.
Hayden did struggle with penalties in the third quarter, including a play where he outright tackled the receiver when he didn’t have the ball, being called for illegal hands to the face. A couple of plays later, Hayden was guilty of defensive holding that gave the Cardinals the ball at the 15-yard line.
The good news is that he played better, and showed some promise against some solid receivers.
Rookie defensive end stepping up
Rookie second-round pick Mario Edwards, Jr. has been doing the little things throughout preseason, such as stretching run plays and setting the edge, but on Sunday night he added some more accolades.
The former Florida State Seminole has looked much more comfortable over the last couple of weeks and that includes Sunday night against the Cardinals.
Edwards made his presence felt early in the first quarter when he lifted left tackle Jared Veldheer up and pushed him back to get to Palmer to record his first sack.
The young defensive lineman used his extended playing time to his advantage, later beating Cardinals third-string left tackle to record another sack, this time on Logan Thomas in the fourth quarter.