Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

November 15, 2018 at 12:24 am.


–Those not practicing for the Cardinals on Wednesday included LG Mike Iupati (back), DT Robert Nkemdiche (calf), S Budda Baker (knee), LT D.J. Humphries (knee), WR Chad Williams (ankle), S Rudy Ford (heel), DT Rodney Gunter (not injury-related). K Phil Dawson (right hip) and WR Larry Fitzgerald (not injury-related).

–RB David Johnson is a lot of things to a lot of people. To Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who will coach against him for the first time, Johnson is a “joker.”

“Johnson is what you’re looking for,” Gruden told Arizona reporters on a conference call. “I mean, he’s a game-breaking back, he can take a short pass the distance, he can bang in there for critical yards and short yardage, he can end the game, breaking tackles.

“He’s a joker. I call him a joker. He can line up in any hand. You can put him in the I-formation. You can off-set him in the shotgun. You can line him up at wide receiver or the shotgun. He’s just a complete modern-day back. He’s what we’re all looking for.”

–DT Corey Peters is the Cardinals’ nominee for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.

–QB Josh Rosen isn’t just gaining experience the more he plays as a rookie. He’s also learning how to become a leader and head coach Steve Wilks said he’s continues to see a nice growing pattern there as well in the first-round pick out of UCLA.

“I think he’s gotten better each and every week,” Wilks said. “I think he’s commanding the offense. The guys respect him. He has gotten to the point now to where – I don’t really want to use the term ‘calling guys out,’ – but he has set the tone out there. He doesn’t mind getting on guys when needed.”

–TE Ricky Seals-Jones has yet to emerge as a bona fide pass-catching threat, but he’s getting better and for the Cardinals, and that’s a positive.

“I’ve seen a lot of progress with Ricky all year long, going back to training camp and preseason,” head coach Steve Wilks said. “I think he’s doing a great job in the pass game, but I also think he is doing a much better job in the run blocking, as well. That, to me, is where he is standing out a little bit more.”

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: CB Bene’ Benwikere might be asked to abandon his duties as an outside corner and play inside as a slot defender with some emphasis on playing safety in nickel situations against the Raiders. That will happen if safety Budda Baker can’t go because of a knee injury he suffered in Sunday’s game at Kansas City. Benwikere is sixth on the team in tackles (35) and has one interception and one forced fumble. Head coach Steve Wilks said Benwikere is versatile enough to play any position on the back end.

GAME PLAN: The Cardinals will want to duplicate what they did in Kansas City as it relates to how they use running back David Johnson, who racked up season highs in yards from scrimmage (183), rushing yards (98) and receiving yards (85). New offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has been using Johnson more as a receiver, both in the slot and as a wide receiver, and running backs coach Kirby Wilson has been getting on Johnson to run more downhill and eliminate some of his bouncing around at the line. Look for the Cardinals to use more max protection in this game after rookie quarterback Josh Rosen was sacked five times and hit 13 times by the Chiefs. The Raiders don’t have much of a pass rush, but head coach Steve Wilks is worried about Rosen absorbing so much punishment.

Defensively, the Cardinals will try to blitz Derek Carr repeatedly and they have the bookends to do it in pass rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. The interior defensive front is ailing a bit, but this would be the perfect time for the hobbled Robert Nkemdiche to get well quick and start making a difference or this could end up being his last year in Arizona. The Cardinals might also be a little thin in the secondary, especially if versatile safety Budda Baker (knee) can’t play. If he doesn’t, starting cornerback Bene’ Benwikere will step into Baker’s role, meaning Jamar Taylor or Brandon Williams or perhaps even one of the two new corners the team signed on Wednesday, David Amerson or Leonard Johnson, could see some playing time a lot quicker than they thought they would.

–Cardinals WLB Deone Bucannon vs. Raiders TE Jared Cook. Cook is the Raiders’ biggest weapon as a pass-catcher, leading the team with 546 receiving yards on 42 catches with three touchdowns. Normally, S Budda Baker might draw the primary assignment here, but with his knee injury, expect the Cardinals to utilize Bucannon more than they have. Last week against the Chiefs, he was only on the field for 10 defensive snaps and has gone through games where he didn’t even see half that much time. Bucannon has the leverage and strength to neutralize Cook if the Cardinals let him.

–Cardinals LG Jeremy Vujnovich vs. Raiders DT Maurice Hurst. With veteran Mike Iupati’s back a mess, the chances are good that Vujnovich will make his second straight start and it won’t be an easy one against a menacing force like Hurst, who leads Oakland with three sacks. Vujnovich allowed three sacks last week during the Cardinals’ 26-14 loss to the Chiefs. He’s not at full strength, either, as he is still recovering from a hamstring issue.