Last week, the Arizona Cardinals got a little bit of national attention as they played the Kansas City Chiefs tough in Arrowhead. This week, the 2-7 Redbirds take on another AFC West foe, but there will be almost no eyes on them as they take on Chucky and the 1-8 Oakland Raiders at State Farm Stadium. These are two of the worst teams in the league—in fact, they are the #31 and #32 teams in the league per Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings. So that’s exciting.
Even though it’s the Cardinals who are DVOA’s #32 team, they’re actually favored by 5.5 points. This is only the second time the Cardinals have been favored this season, with the other being the Week 1 loss against Washington, when we were favored by 2 points. Do the Cardinals merit being favored by nearly a touchdown? Let’s find out by comparing each team’s QBs and using DVOA, Pro Football Focus’s player grades/rankings, and more traditional stats as our tools. We’ll see if the Redbirds can notch their third win of the season against a fellow cellar dweller.
Josh Rosen has hardly set the league on fire in his rookie season. His Total QBR is a dismal 36.3, and his PFF grade is 55.8 (#31 QB). He has yet to throw for more than 260 yards or 2 TDs in a single game. Some of this can obviously be blamed on the fired Mike McCoy, but, truthfully, Rosen hasn’t looked much different with Lord Byron heading the offense. In his starts under McCoy, Rosen averaged 196 YPG, completed 54.3% of his passes, had a 6.55 YPA, and a tallied a 3:4 TD:INT ratio. In two games under Leftwich, those numbers are 230 YPG, 57.0%, 5.8 YPA, and 3:3 TD:INT ratio. A moderate improvement in volume, but at the expense of a much lower YPA. But if there was an opponent for Rosen to boost his stats against, it’s the Raiders (see below).
Derek Carr is oft maligned, but he’s actually been pretty solid this season—he’s completed 71.5% of his passes (second in the league) and is on pace for a 4000-yard season. His Total QBR is an average 48.6, while his PFF grade is an above-average 69.6 (#24 QB). Suffice to say, Carr is not the reason for the Raiders’ struggles this year. But he’s also only thrown for 10 TDs as the Raiders’ offense as a whole has struggled to manufacture points, a trend that will likely continue on Sunday against the Redbirds’ pass defense (see below).
Bottom Line: Carr is hardly elite (insert Joe Flacco joke here), but Cardinals fans would happily take his production over Josh Rosen’s. The Raiders will have a distinct advantage at the game’s most important position on Sunday.
Cardinals Offense vs. Raiders Defense
Something has to give here. The Cardinals rinky-dink offense hasn’t been able to consistently move the ball or score all season, while the Raiders haven’t been able to stop anyone. The opponent is right for Josh Rosen to have a breakout game—I mean, Nick freaking Mullens shredded them on Thursday night two weeks ago—but the Cardinals have been seemingly hesitant to let the rookie truly air it out. I’d love to see a 300-yard, 3-TD game, but I just don’t see it happening, especially given our myriad O-line issues. I’d settle for a 250-yard, 2-TD game though.
But the offense should be focused around David Johnson, especially since it looked like he finally found his 2016 stride against the Chiefs last week. Can he continue to build momentum after his monster 28-touch, 183-yard, 2-TD performance? Well, the Raiders allow over 140 rushing YPG, and Melvin Gordon just carved them up for 23 touches, 165 yards, and a TD last week. DJ should at least equal those numbers.
Bottom Line: I expect Rosen to continue to put up pedestrian numbers, but DJ should feast for a second week in a row. I’d be shocked if we didn’t top 20 points (for just the second time all season).
Cardinals Defense vs. Raiders Offense
With Marshawn Lynch injured and the trade of Amari Cooper, the Raiders offense is basically Carr, Jared Cook (PFF’s #6 TE), and a bunch of spare parts (predominantly Doug Martin, Jordy Nelson, and Martavis Bryant). If the Redbirds can’t contain this group, something will have gone very wrong. It starts up front, where the Raiders have given up 29 sacks (7th-most in the league), so Chandler Jones et al. should have another field day. Cook might have a high-volume, low-efficiency day, but it’s hard to see any of the Raiders WRs putting up big numbers.
That said, the defense’s Achilles’ heel is stopping the run, so even though Martin doesn’t intimidate anyone, it’s not a given that we can stop him. (Remember what the Vikings’ backup RB did to us?) An 80-yard, 1-TD game (at least) seems likely if the Raiders don’t fall behind big. (They won’t.) Expect pass-catching RB Jalen Richard to be an annoying presence all day, especially on 3rd down, where Oakland converts 37.0% of the time (#10 in the league). The Cardinals stop teams 39.7% of the time (#17 in the league).
Bottom Line: The Raiders should struggle to throw the ball, but they can chew up the clock with a gameplan centered around Martin and Cook (and Richard, to a lesser extent). The key will be 3rd down—whoever wins that down could very well win the game.
The Redbirds sit at #19 in special teams DVOA, while the Raiders are all the way down at #28, mostly due to issues in the kicking game. They’re on their third kicker of the season with rookie Daniel Carlson, who replaced a familiar name in Matt McCrane (who himself replaced Mike Nugent). While the Redbirds may not be much better with Phil Dawson, they do have an advantage at punter, with Andy Lee being far superior to rookie Johnny Townsend. Neither team has distinguished itself in the return/coverage phases.
Bottom Line: Despite the disparity in DVOA rankings, this phase is fairly even given the lack of confidence in Dawson. But if Lee can keep pinning the Raiders deep, the Redbirds should have a solid field position advantage.
The optics of the 5.5-point spread make sense, as the Cardinals are at home and acquitted themselves well against one of the best teams in the league last week, while the Raiders were dominated by the Chargers. But anyone who has watched the Cardinals play every week knows they shouldn’t be favored by that many points against anyone, even a 1-8 team that has lost almost all of their most talented players.
So I don’t think the Cardinals cover on Sunday. In fact, given the team’s offensive struggles and the Raiders’ advantage at QB, I think Chucky and the Raiders pull off the upset as the Cardinals lose, 24-21. The Cardinals will have a critical turnover in their own territory late that costs them the game. But the upshot is we move ahead of the Raiders in the chase for the #1 draft pick, so it’s not a total loss.
How do you see this game going, Cardinals fans? Can the offense get it going against this porous defense? Can we shut down this offense? Give us your predictions in the comments.