NFL Preview – Arizona (4-1) at Oakland (0-5) (ET)

By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor

( – It’s been a while since the Oakland Raiders walked off
the field as winners. Not since last Nov. 17 have the Raiders claimed victory
and they hope fortunes change Sunday versus the Arizona Cardinals.

The Raiders are 0-5 on the season and have lost 11 straight games following a
28-23 win at Houston almost a year ago. They are winless in six straight games
in Oakland, last winning in front of the home crowd with a 21-18 decision over
Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.

Oakland’s woes continued with a tough 31-28 home loss to Philip Rivers and the
upstart San Diego Chargers. Rivers threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns
with no interceptions and Branden Oliver ran for 101 yards and a score.
Oliver’s TD run with 1:56 left in the game took the wind out of the Raiders’
sails and handed interim head coach Tony Sparano, who took over after Dennis
Allen was fired on Sept. 29, his first loss.

Sparano, though, was pleased with the effort his players gave.

“We needed to be in that kind of football game. Our team needed to feel
themselves in that kind of football game, and we need to find a way
to win that kind of football game,” Sparano said. “And we will. We’re going to
put this game behind us and get ready to play Arizona. … If those guys give
me that kind of effort going forward here, this thing is going to turn.”

Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr passed for a career-high 282 yards with
four touchdown passes to just one interception. He also wasn’t sacked for the
third time in five games this season. Oakland’s offensive line is trying not
to allow a sack for the fourth game this season, marking the first time in
franchise history and the 35th time in NFL history a team has recorded
shutouts in the sacks-allowed column in four of its first six games.

Carr tied Matt McGloin for the most TD passes by a Raiders rookie with eight.
He has thrown a pick in each of the past four games (5 total), but did find a
new target in Andre Holmes. Holmes had 121 yards and two TD receptions on four
catches against the Chargers, and enters Sunday with 269 yards and three TDs.
His 77-yard score opened the scoring.

“I felt pretty fresh,” Holmes said. “We started fast in both the beginning of
the first half and the second half, so those types of things are showing up
and it’s working, so we just have to continue to stay the course and work

Holmes and Carr will try to execute even more on Sunday. Holmes has nine
catches for 195 yards and three TDs in last two games. James Jones leads
Oakland with 26 receptions for 328 yards and three scores, and caught a TD
pass on Sunday.

Arizona will be Oakland’s first NFC opponent this season. It won’t be an easy
one for the hosts with the NFC West leaders playing their third road game of
the season (1-1).

The Cardinals were able to bounce back from a 41-20 loss at Denver on Oct. 5
by handing Washington a 30-20 loss this past weekend. Carson Palmer came back
from a dead nerve in his shoulder to throw for 250 yards with two touchdown
passes and no interceptions. Palmer hadn’t played since Week 1 and the
Cardinals were 2-1 with Drew Stanton under center.

“I was pleased with Carson’s performance,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “I
think he showed some rust, but he got through it and did a heck of a job for

Palmer, who played two seasons for the Oakland Raiders from 2011-12 and is 9-2
in his last 11 starts, has completed 52 of his 81 attempts for 554 yards, four
TDs and has yet to throw a pick this season. He said after Sunday’s win he
feels great, but tired, and needs to throw more to strengthen his arm.

Larry Fitzgerald had 98 yards and his first touchdown of the season on six
receptions (6 targets). Fitzgerald has 19 catches for 262 yards, while Michael
Floyd leads the Cardinals with 306 yards to just one TD. Josh Brown has a
team-best three receiving touchdowns this season.

“Mentally, I’ve always prepared myself for a big day,” Fitzgerald said. “If it
happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I take my same approach every
single week, every single day. That doesn’t change. I believe in the way we
work as a team. I believe the way I prepare is the right way. That’s not going
to change.”

It’s a bad sign for opposing defenses when Fitzgerald is hitting his stride.
His 88th career TD reception Sunday tied him with Don Maynard for 12th place
on the NFL’s all-time list.

Arizona’s defense forced four fourth quarter turnovers to take the Redskins
out of it. Kirk Cousins may have thrown for 354 yards and two scores, but had
three INTs in the fourth quarter. Now the Cardinals are preparing for a rookie
QB coming off a career day.

Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson intercepted two passes Sunday and returned one
28 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring. He said the defense turned
it around after coordinator Todd Bowles challenged the unit.

“That’s probably as passionate as I’ve ever seen Todd Bowles since I’ve been
here the past two years,” Johnson said. “He challenged us and called us out.”

Well, the tactic worked and now the Cardinals are looking down on defending
Super Bowl champion Seattle and San Francisco in the division.

“We are in first place,” Arians said. “There is no adversity. There are only
bumps in the road.”

The Cardinals have won five of their last six games against AFC foes and trail
the series with the Raiders, 5-3. The Cardinals won the last meeting with
Oakland by a 24-23 score on Sept. 26, 2010 in the desert. Fitzgerald had a
touchdown catch in that one and Raiders running back Darren McFadden ran for
105 yards and a score on 25 totes.

Arizona’s last win in Oakland was on Dec. 2, 2001, a 34-31 verdict.


The last time the Cardinals started 5-1 was back in 1976. They’ll have to play
better defense in order to achieve that goal and it starts with the secondary,
which is allowing an NFL-worst 309.0 passing yards a game.

That means Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie have to do a better job of
firing up the defensive backfield. Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson
burned them for more than 100 yards, and now the Cardinals have to face a
resurgent Holmes and steady Jones on Sunday.

In Arizona’s defense, Johnson had two of the three interceptions. And Arizona
is facing a rookie quarterback who could be forced into making mistakes.
Jerraud Powers had the other pick against the Redskins and leads the team with
three this season.

“Two very, very smart players,” Arians said of Johnson and Powers. “They
dissect plays by formation, they see things, they study a ton of tape, they
communicate well. When a guy’s smart, it’s easy to communicate, because he
believes in what he’s saying. That’s what they’re always around the ball.
They’re always going to be there. They’re going to make their plays.”

Arizona has won 11 of its last 14 games dating back to last season and has a
good chance at improving that mark. In other news, linebacker Alex Okafor made
his first career start last week and posted two sacks.

“I knew I could do it,” Okafor said. “I have confidence in myself. The players
and coaches on this team have confidence in me. It wasn’t a surprise. When
they come my way, I have to make the play.”

Raiders running backs McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew will be coming for
Arizona, which is third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (75.8 ypg), but
near the bottom of total yards allowed (384.8 ypg). McFadden ripped the
Cardinals in the last meeting, but that was 2010.

Jones-Drew has 68 career rushing TDs – the second-most among active players.
McFadden needs one more touchdown to become the eighth running back in club
history with 30, joining the likes of Marcus Allen and Pete Banaszak.

Either way, the Raiders have to put last week in the past and focus on trying
to win their first game of the season.

“There are some things there that we’ve got to cleanup throughout this week
here, which we’ll do,” Sparano said. “We’re in the process of doing that right
now, in the meeting rooms. We’re going to put this game behind us and get
ready to play Arizona.”

Defensive newcomers Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley have combined for just one
sack this season, and it wouldn’t hurt to get some pressure on Palmer. The
Raiders only have two interceptions, too.


The Cardinals are sitting pretty atop the NFC West standings and Palmer’s
getting his arm strength back. A healthy Palmer is key to the team’s success,
and with Fitzgerald getting on the touchdown board, things are looking good
for Arizona.

Oakland is having all sorts of trouble despite some bright spots in Carr and
Holmes. If only the defense could play better the Raiders wouldn’t be winless.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Cardinals 30, Raiders 17