Saturday, the offense of the Oakland Raiders will face an intriguing Arizona Cardinals defense. With a blend of standout veterans and promising younger players, Arizona presents a stout test. First, Arizona plays an interesting 3-4 alignment. That is to say, they use smaller interior linebackers than most. Also, the versatility of the lineman could create mismatches along the line of scrimmage.
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After falling down the 2016 draft board DE Robert Nkemdiche struggled to see meaningful field time as a rookie. Experts call him “immature and lazy”. Yet, this offseason, Nkemdiche showed why Arizona selected him in the first round. His combination of explosion and quickness jumps off film. When mentally locked in, Nkemdiche presents a headache for anyone in front of him. He’s a 300 pounder that moves like a 260 pounder. If his head stays clear, the Cardinals have a future Pro Bowler.
Whenever 3-4 defenses are discussed, the linebackers remain the focal point. Arizona’s linebackers bring a diverse skillset.
Chandler Jones’ length and ability to shed blocks forces much slower tackles to cheat step. In other words, the split become a bit wide to force Jones outside. As a result, they expose themselves to a quicker inside counter. Sharpe and Newhouse must not concede too much.
Perhaps the key to the Arizona scheme is LB Deone Bucannon. While converting from safety, Bucannon brings ferocity to his play. However, a 212-pound linebacker gives the Cardinals the ability to employ a linebacker to cover receivers and backs. On the other hand, Bucannon’s size will cause him to get washed out on certain running plays.
Also, look for 2017 first rounder Haason Reddick to see loads of snaps. Reddick plays all over the field. Plus, he can rush the pass and operate in the middle of the field. In hindsight, he was the one player I wish Oakland could’ve drafted. Yet, his selection at 13th prevented that dream from reality.
With all due respect to the Legion of Boom, the Cardinals secondary is the most exciting back four in the league. Although Richard Sherman plays at an elite level, few corners can do what Patrick Peterson can. Not many 6’1” corners can run with just about any receiver in the league. Equally important, Peterson uses the jam to control the route from the snap.
Meanwhile, the free safety depth chart promises to give any offensive coordinator fits. First, Tyrann Mathieu lurks in the deep middle. While not a fantastic, demolishing hitter, Mathieu patrols the deep half with a knack for the big play. Teams know where he is at all times. With most teams relying on safety play to demolish, Mathieu literally turns defense into offense. Behind him on the depth chart is Budda Baker. Ironically enough, Baker is a carbon copy of Mathieu. Each relatively small, but with unlimited range and a nose for the ball. If the Raiders want to move the ball through the air, watching out for the Cardinals free safeties remains a priority.
Although Arizona will run with most teams, their lack of size will allow teams to bludgeon them rapidly. As a result, the Raiders should go run heavy early. That pass rush will slow down after the offensive line leans on them.