Staring down the wrong side of history
If the Raiders lose Sunday, it would be their second worst start in franchise history. Only once in the Raiders history have they started a season 0-6. That was 1962 -- the season before Al Davis took over the team -- when they started the season 0-13 before winning the final game of the season. The last time the Raiders started a season 0-5 was 2006. They staved off 0-6 with a win over the Arizona Cardinals. They would win two in a row and then lose the final nine games of that season.
Derek Carr for the record
Through five starts, Derek Carr sits tied with Matt McGloin for the most touchdown passes (8) by a Raiders rookie quarterback. Which means with one touchdown pass in this game, Carr would set a new record, and counting.
There will be a hugs and hand pounds going on before game time. The Cardinals have five players on their roster who were donning Silver & Black two seasons ago. Carson Palmer leads the Cardinals offense with Jared Veldheer protecting his blindside just as he did during Palmer's 1 ½ seasons in Oakland. The defensive line features two original Raiders in former third round pick, Matt Shaughnessy and for nine-year veteran Raider, Tommy Kelly. The Cardinals even added linebacker Kaelin Burnett to their practice squad, who spent the past two seasons with the Raiders. It's looking like Raiders South down in the AZ these days. And it's working for them. They're 4-1 and leading the tough NFC West at the moment.
New Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has rejuvenated the offense for the Red Birds. Since he was hired on with the Cardinals, the offense has gotten better and better. They began to show well late last season, though it was still the defense carrying most of the load. This season the offense has picked up tremendously and the Cardinals look like they could make a playoff run. They have trotted out three different quarterbacks this season and yet have not thrown an interception. Raiders fans recognize how rare that is for Carson Palmer who was always good for an average of an interception per game.
Arians gained notoriety initially as the offensive coordinator with the Steelers when they made two trips to the Super Bowl, winning one against the team he now coaches. Following five good seasons as OC in Pittsburgh, he spent one season in Indianapolis where he filled in for Chuck Pagano during Pagano's cancer treatments and the Colts went 9-3 during that time. Naturally, he was a hot commodity after that and the Cardinals wisely nabbed him as their next head coach. The Raiders players are currently rallying around their new offensive minded head coach as well, so they understand the boost in performance.
Carr driving for elite trifecta
We are entering the sixth game of the season and Derek Carr is about to face his third Pro Bowl cornerback and his second All Pro. He torched Darrelle Revis in the opener and then did even worse to Brandon Flowers last week. Now he will line up across from All Pro cornerback, Patrick Peterson. Carr has said he knows where these elite corners are on the field at all times but said if that's where is read takes him, he won't shy away from going at them. Peterson is most vulnerable on underneath routes. James Jones is very good at shielding off the underneath routes and Andre Holmes specializes in the back shoulder, leaping grab. It will interesting to see if Carr can make it a three-peat against top cover corners in the NFL. FYI: He faces Richard Sherman in Seattle in two weeks.
Jared Veldheer vs Khalil Mack
Raiders fans love to root for the failure of former Raiders so they can feel better about the fact they no longer suit up for their team. This week those fans will have a legitimate reason to root against Veldheer as he will be trying to keep the Raiders' top draft pick out of the Cardinals backfield. Mack has shone well against the run but the light hasn't quite come on as a pass rusher. Veldheer will be looking to keep him Mack in the dark this week as well. While Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders will be hoping to kill three validation birds with one stone - trading away Palmer, not re-signing Veldheer, and drafting Mack fifth overall.
Battle of attrition
The Cardinals have the best run defense in the NFL. The Raiders finally have Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew healthy and running well. And with offensive line guru, Tony Sparano, calling the shots, run game looked night and day better last week than it had in the first four weeks under Dennis Allen. Sparano said the reason for the improved play was the new players on this team getting more comfortable. And with the offensive line having four new starters, that makes some sense. They should continue to improve along the offensive line and with McFadden and Jones-Drew. Can they continue that upward momentum against a tough Cardinals run defense? It will worth watching for.
Keep calm and Carrie on
The biggest surprise of this season for the Raiders could be the play of seventh round rookie T.J. Carrie. That surprise started in OTA's and he has not let up. He finally earned the right to be the team's nickel back last week against the Chargers and didn't disappoint. He also took over kick return duties on top of his punt return duties. D.J. Hayden returned to practice from the PUP list this week but is not expected to be activated for this game. He may not be activated for a couple weeks and Carrie's contribution would be a big reason why. Not having to rush Hayden back into the lineup quickly is a great benefit. And even when they eventually do activate him, they would rather not throw him into a heavy workload. Carrie looks like he could be a future starter for this team and a solid game against Carson Palmer would be another notch in his belt.
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