The Arizona Cardinals(1-1) open their 2010 season at home this Sunday as they take on the Oakland Raiders(1-1). After a quick win to begin the season, Derek Anderson and the Cardinals fell mightily to the Atlanta Falcons last week 41-7. Many have already questioned the will of Anderson and Whisenhunt's choice to part ways with Matt Leinart a week before this season began. Was it the right choice? Can Anderson get back on track? At this point, that choice remains a big question mark.
The Cardinals looked like they were moving in the right direction after their win in St. Louis, but took a leap backwards after last week's defeat. Luckily for the Cardinals, their nemesis -- the San Francisco 49ers - have started their season losing two games straight. With the Rams also in an 0-2 hole and the Seahawks standing at 1-1, the Cardinals season is in no way over. They can get everything on track tomorrow with a win against an average Raiders team.
The Raiders decided this week that they would bench offseason acquisition Jason Campbell, in favor of Bruce Gradkowski. His change-of-pace style is what the Raiders needed on offense last week in their first victory against the Rams. So far this season, their offense has relied heavily on third year back Darren McFadden, who's currently second in the league with 240 rushing yards. They'd prefer to get him going against the Cardinals suspect defense tomorrow. They're in a similar boat as the Cardinals, as they also parted ways with their former number one pick, Jamarcus Russell. Their defense has good players throughout, but haven't been as solid as they'd hoped. For the Raiders, 2010 needs to be the season they get back to winning.
Next we'll look at the keys to victory, the key match up, the biggest question, and the key stat...
Three Keys To Victory
Stop Darren McFadden - Against the Falcons, the Cardinals defense allowed third string back Jason Snelling to run wild, scoring three total touchdowns. That opened the door for Matt Ryan to complete pass after pass for 12 first downs. The Raiders would like to get their young back Darren McFadden started early in order to take some of the pressure off of Gradkowski. The defense must stop McFadden and force Gradkowski to try and win the game with his arm -- which won't happen.
Dampen Penalties - Twenty penalties in two games isn't the best start to any teams season. Currently the Cardinals are second worst in the league in flags drawn only to the Raiders, and are second in yards handed out. Penalties kill drives, momentum, and games altogether. Ken Whisenhunt needs to keep a tight lid on them and get the Cardinals playing smart football.
Offensive Chemistry Improved - I've said if before and I'll say it again -- the Cardinals offense needs to get into sync. Anderson hasn't been able to connect with his receivers and the offensive line's timing/production has been off. Anderson's had three weeks to practice with the first team offense. He's had two games to play with them as well. Let's hope that Ken Whisenhunt can call the right plays this week for the offense' sake.
Key Match Up
Adrian Wilson vs Zach Miller - Tight ends haven't been a problem for the Cardinals through their first two games, but Miller could give the defense fits. He's a pass-catching tight end that may wind up one of Gradkowski's favorite targets. Wilson could get the assignment just as he usually does which would make for an interesting battle between the two.
Who will take over on offense? The Cardinals desperately need a player on offense to take over the game and put some points on the board. Whether it be Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, or someone else -- there only needs to be one that gets hot.
When quarterback Bruce Gradkowski throws less then two touchdowns in a game, his career record is 3-11. When he throws two or more, his career record is 4-2. It makes sense that the improved record would come at the hands of more touchdowns, but it also means the Cardinals can't let Gradkowski stand in the pocket all day. Pressuring him will be the key to forcing him into mistakes.
It's hard to say how much a loss will effect this team right now. The overall division is in bad shape and 1-2 wouldn't be far away from first place. A win would be huge however. The Cardinals should be fired up over the ass kicking they received last week and there's little doubt they would like to drop two games in a row. If we've seen anything from the Cardinals in recent years, it's that they win impressively when we least expect it.