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What to watch Sunday when the Cardinals play the Raiders

Howard Balzer Avatar
September 18, 2022

Wake-up calls are often necessary in Las Vegas for a variety of reasons, but for the Cardinals it’s different following last Sunday’s 44-21 loss to the Chiefs.

The wakeup-call theme was a consistent one throughout the week, with the hope that what occurred at home six days ago won’t also happen on the road.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said right out of the gate that “I think it can be a real wake-up call and hopefully it was.”

After Wednesday’s first practice of the week, quarterback Kyler Murray said: “Practice was great. Energy was good. When you get beat like that. Game 1. At home. That has to be a wake-up call for whoever felt complacent or whatever internally. You gotta look in the mirror individually. Do you really want to be here? Do you really want to be great? What drives you? Like, those are the questions I feel like need to be asked.”

General manager Steve Keim said of Murray: “He’s approached this week extremely diligently like I expected him to. I know a number of times when people talk about young players getting new contracts, how do they respond? I will tell you straight up the guy has been phenomenal. He’s been vocal, he’s been energetic and he’s done all the right things. So really proud of how he’s responded and expect the best from him moving forward.”

Tight end Zach Ertz said of Murray: “I definitely think he’s more vocal this year, I think he’s kind of taking on that vocal leadership role. And I also just think he’s, even after the game, when we got our butts kicked on Sunday, he was the guy going around in the locker room, kind of telling everyone we’re gonna be alright, we’re gonna be alright.

“So for me, I think he’s just taking that next step. Everyone wants a finished product in today’s society. And that’s just not reality. Everyone’s got to grow up. I’m a lot better leader now then I was 24, 25. So he’s doing a great job.”

Said tight end Maxx Williams: “Anytime you lose your home opener, it’s a wake-up call, in my opinion, because you never want to go into the season especially losing at home. That’s our home field. We should be winning there.”

Ertz agreed, saying on Thursday: “I think it was a wake-up call, obviously. You can tell just from watching the film, things were a little disjointed. So it’s been a point of emphasis to everyone to be on the same page. Whether we’re all right, or we’re all wrong, let’s start with being on the same page. And really rallying around each other. And I thought yesterday and today were two really good days of practice. But we got to go out there and execute on Sunday.”

Road warriors

The Cardinals were 8-1 away from home last season and seven of those games were double-digit victories.

“I think our group does a great job of kind of locking in on the road being around each other, team hotel, all those things and so hopefully we feel some confidence from the success we had and we can build off that,” Kingsbury said this week.

However, Murray said what happened last season won’t necessarily carry over to the following year.

“I’m really not worried about last year,” he said. “It’s a new team. We got new players. Nothing that we did last year; that doesn’t translate to next year. This is our first test on the road against a damn good team.”

He might be right, but four of the wins in 2021 were against playoff teams and the Raiders were in the playoffs last season.

Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams catches a touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Chargers last week. (Getty Images)

Containing Davante

Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams was targeted on 17 of quarterback Derek Carr’s 37 passes in Week 1 and caught 10 for 141 yards and a touchdown. The compromised Cardinals secondary will have its hands full on Sunday.

Safety Jalen Thompson (toe) is questionable as is cornerback Trayvon Mullen Jr. (toe). Cornerback Jace Whittaker was elevated from the practice squad for the second consecutive game, but he played only nine snaps against Kansas City. Linebackers were often tasked with covering wide receivers.

Even if Thompson plays, how effective will he be? The same question can be asked about Mullen, which could be why Whittaker was elevated.

Kingsbury said Adams “is probably the best route-runner in the league outside of (Stefon) Diggs in Buffalo. He is a special player. Those kinds of guys if you’re one-on-one for 10 plays, he’ll probably catch seven. So having a plan to get him stopped and get him doubled from time to time is going to be critical.

“So it’s gonna be a tough task to get him contained. And I say contain not stop because you don’t stop those guys, you contain them. So hopefully we can.”

Asked about Adams having 17 targets, Kingsbury said, “When you pay a guy like that that type of money; I don’t know what Hop had his first game, like 15 catches, the ball’s going to go to him. That’s part of it. And he’s that good. He probably could have got a few more targets watching that film. Tremendous player; that’s why he went there and they’re going to build around him. I expect that trend to continue.”

Hop, of course, is wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Kingsbury’s memory was good. Hopkins was targeted on 16 of Murray’s 40 attempts in the 2020 season opener against San Francisco and he caught 14 for 151 yards.

Linebacker Isaiah Simmons described Adams as “a pristine route runner” with “great ball skills. If you put those two together; he does all the little things correctly and knows how to get open. That makes you pretty great to me.”

Asked about the challenge cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. will have when he’s tasked with covering Adams, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said, “We like what we’ve seen from Byron. We’re going to be smart. Everybody’s tried different stuff with Davante and none of it’s really worked great. He’s that talented of a player.

“So we’re gonna have to mix up coverages and do different things to try and keep the ball coming to him all game. Byron has really taken some big steps this season and we feel confident when he’s matching up on their No. 1.”

Early desperation?

Starting fast is often important in games, just as it can be early in the season. Barring a tie, either the Cardinals or Raiders will be 0-2 after Sunday’s game. Next week, the Cardinals host the Rams while the Raiders travel to Tennessee to play the Titans.

Not surprisingly, the odds of making it to the postseason after beginning a season 0-2 are low. Since 1990, 63 percent of the teams that started 2-0 made the playoffs. That number drops to 42 percent for teams that were 1-1 and a mere 11.3 percent for those 0-2.

Attrition at receiver

With wide receivers Rondale Moore and Andy Isabella out Sunday and Antoine Wesley on reserve/injured, the Cardinals have four healthy receivers: Marquise Brown, A.J. Green, Greg Dortch and Andre Baccellia, who was signed from the practice squad last Saturday. They have two wideouts on the practice squad, Jeff Cotton Jr. and Javon Wims that were signed this week. Victor Bolden Jr. is on the practice-squad injured list.

The return of tight end Zach Ertz to full health should help open up the offense along with running backs being targets. Last Sunday, running back James Conner (five) and Eno Benjamin (three) combined for eight of Murray’s 22 completions.

Finding a pass rush

With the Raiders having issues on the offensive line, the Cardinals will have to be mindful of running back Josh Jacobs, but also create pressure on Carr.

Keim believes linebacker Dennis Gardeck could fill that role.

“We obviously need somebody to step up,” the GM said. “I thought Markus Golden did some good things. I thought Dennis Gardeck actually flashed quite a bit. I’m really, really excited about the way (he) played. He played fast, he hustled, played like he practices every day, which is exceptional.”

Gardeck played only 20 snaps (29 percent) against the Chiefs so Keim was asked if would play more. “I would think so,” he said.

Admiring Josh

Kingsbury has expressed admiration for Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, a relationship that began in 2003 when McDaniels was a coaching assistant with the Patriots and Kingsbury was a rookie quarterback on reserve/injured that was helping coach Bill Belichick with some coach-related tasks.

They worked together “a lot” that year, according to Kingsbury, who tried to have McDaniels do some of his work. For a price, of course, Kingsbury said, “He was working on the defense with Bill, which thank God, I didn’t have to do that kind of the quality control role. And so I would want to go out with the team and stuff and I tried to pay him to do my work and say, ‘Dude, I have so much work, there’s no chance I have that.’

“So I’ve watched him grind. I have such a tremendous amount of respect for where he came from, from the defensive side to being this offensive genius to all the success he’s had with the Patriots and now getting another shot. He’s first class and a brilliant offensive mind.”

Asked if he really paid McDaniels, Kingsbury said, “Oh, yeah. I was like, 23 (actually 24 and just three years younger than McDaniels). I was trying to go out. I mean, it wasn’t significant, but at the time, it probably was for him. So he was just getting started, too, but he worked really, really hard that year.”

Note: The quotes from general manager Steve Keim came via his weekly Friday appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions via Twitter @hbalzer721 or email:

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