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Turning Point: Raiders @ Cardinals Preview

The Cardinals, like the Raiders, are 1-1 with the single victory coming at the expense of the lowly St. Louis Rams.

In many ways the third game of the season is pivotal for a 1-1 team. This is true for the Raiders.

Win this week and even two losses in a row don’t put an end to your season.

The Raiders will come home for games against Houston and San Diego in weeks four and five before going to San Francisco in week six. Tough opponents for a team desperately trying to make it back to respectability. Basically speaking it is three home games in a row.

The season could turn for the better or worse in week three. 2-1 means winning just one of the next three sets up the Raiders at 3-3 headed into week eight at home against the Seahawks and week nine at home against Chiefs before a bye week.

Losing a week three road game against Arizona could spell another disaster for a team that can’t afford it. The fan base has patience as thin as paper at this point. Dropping to 1-2 and winning just one of the next three games would put the pressure on the Raiders to take care of the Seahawks and Chiefs just to get back to .500 before the bye week.

What do the Raiders have to do to win in Arizona?


Offense

The Raiders made the switch to Bruce Gradkowski. The majority of the fans are happy with the change, with about a quarter of the fans wondering if the coaching staff pulled the plug on the Jason Campbell era too soon.

There is no denying what Gradkowski brings to the table, but in the back of everyone’s mind is the Thanksgiving 2009 game in Dallas. Besides the flop in front of the entire country, Bruce Gradkowski has done nothing but inspire confidence. From the game against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to last Sunday against St. Louis.

Recent history suggests that Gradkowski can’t stay healthy. Doing so behind a rickety offensive line is hard and Mario Henderson is also a game-time decision. Neither Henderson or rookie Jared Veldheer are the first guys you would choose to protect your blindside.

Gradkowski must do as he has done and elevate the play of the entire offense. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy are a young tandem to watch if Gradkowski has enough time to get them the ball. Both got open for long catches last week in the first half, but Jason Campbell couldn’t connect on the throw.

Michael Bush appears to be back from a broken thumb. He is a threat the Cardinals can’t ignore. The Raiders will use Bush to spell Darren McFadden and likely in short yardage. His newly learned physical style should help compliment McFadden’s raw speed.

The offensive line might have more leaks than a rotten roof, but they can run block. McFadden will continue to be used as the primary back, but don’t expect 30 carries. Expect around 20 carries with good average with Bush around 10 carries.

The Cardinals defense isn’t very good against the run, but Joey Porter’s pass rush abilities could give the Raiders problems. Darnell Dockett will physically dominate opponents and the offensive line can’t afford to focus heavily on him with linebackers rushing. Adrian Wilson is better in coverage than most people think and one of the hardest hitting safeties in the NFL. Wilson can be beat deep, so expect the Raiders to keep him on his heels by running nine routes at him early. This will keep him from lurking in the middle zones and waiting to deliver a knockout blow.

The key to beating the Cardinals is running the ball and getting on top early. Getting behind and having to throw the ball will only play into the Cardinals strength on defense.


Defense

Larry Fitzgerald. Beast. Stop him and limit the Cardinals offense. The much talked about Nnamdi Asomugha shadowing will begin. Don’t expect Fitzgerald to be shadowed by Asomugha all the time, but at least the Raiders are attempting to make Asomugha’s contributions more valuable.

The Raiders don’t want to ignore the Cardinals other receivers either as Steve Breaston and Early Doucet have the potential to dominate. Stanford Routt, Jeremy Ware and Chris Johnson have their work cut out for them. These receivers are far superior to any of the receivers the Raiders have faced so far this season.

Beanie Wells is back from injury. He may not start, but is a much better runner than Tim Hightower. The Raiders run defense will be tested again, but not quite to the level of the first two weeks.

Hopefully the added focus on the receivers and relaxed focus on the running back will get Tyvon Branch back on track. The Raiders need him to be better than he has been.

Force Derek Anderson to make mistakes. He is prone to make them, put pressure on him and capitalize when he makes poor decisions. Given too much time in the pocket with this group of receivers and Anderson has enough ability to pick the Raiders secondary apart. Richard Seymour returns from a hamstring injury. John Henderson filled in last Sunday and had an excellent day against the run. Seymour will need to add some pass rush on the inside for the Raiders this week.

Weather:

104 degrees outside for tailgating, but a comfortable 72 inside University of Phoenix Stadium.



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