For all the ups and downs the Cardinals’ defense has endured in nine games, the pass rush has been relatively consistent.
The team has at least two sacks in every game this year, and its 29 sacks were sixth in the NFL and just two off the league lead heading into this week’s games. Now they take on a Raiders team that has had significant pass protection issues.
“We always emphasize pass rush; that’s every team I’ve been on,” defensive end Chandler Jones said. “We have had some success rushing the passer, but hopefully we can have more success. Lot of plays we leave out there.”
Jones leads the Cardinals with 8½ sacks, and while he had two last week in Kansas City – the Cards had five total – he still lamented what he didn’t do. But no one else is unhappy, not when contrasted against an upcoming opponent Sunday that has eight sacks as a team and traded away elite pass rusher Khalil Mack before the season.
“Those pass rushers don’t fall off trees,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “When you have one the caliber of Chandler, you want to relish those moments. Not only him, Markus (Golden) as well … makes our job easier.”
A big reason the Cardinals were able to hold the Chiefs to more than 10 points below their season scoring average last week was because of the pressure on QB Patrick Mahomes. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has struggled mightily with pressure – so much so that on a key fourth-down last week, he threw the ball into the turf avoiding the rush, all but ending Oakland’s hopes.
“I’m pleased with the sacks because that means we have either created a negative play or we have gotten off the field on third down,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said. “It is important. At the end of the day, we still want to win games. The drawback with the sacks is, how are teams going to attack us from a protection standpoint? Now we have to find ways to beat protections. You have to foreshadow a little bit.”
NO BUDDA BAKER AGAINST RAIDERS
The Cardinals will have to play without safety Budda Baker (knee) Sunday, after he was ruled out. Baker’s spot will be taken by Bené Benwikere, who worked all offseason at both cornerback and safety. With Benwikere moving, his starting cornerback spot will be manned by former starter Jamar Taylor.
“Budda is a special player and wears a lot of hats in our defense, which is hard to replace,” Holcomb said, before praising Benwikere’s work.
Baker has 76 tackles, second on the team to safety Antoine Bethea, with eight tackles-for-loss and two sacks. He also has five special teams tackles, which is second on the team.
The defense “definitely loses something” without Baker, Peterson said. “But at the end of the day we have to find a way to hold on until he gets back. We’re in good shape with Bené.”
DAWSON HIP COULD MEAN MCCRANE RETURN
The Cards are dealing with other issues. Kicker Phil Dawson (hip) is questionable, and coach Steve Wilks said the team had Matt McCrane in for another workout and available to sign Saturday if it looks like Dawson cannot go. McCrane has not yet signed.
Wide receiver Chad Williams (ankle) is out. Safety Rudy Ford (heel) is officially questionable, although he did not practice all week.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee), left guard Mike Iupati (back) and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (calf) – who had a setback in practice Thursday – are game-day decisions. If Humphries cannot play, rookie Korey Cunningham would be his likely replacement. The Cardinals already have Oday Aboushi sliding into the starting lineup to replace the gone-for-the-season Justin Pugh at right guard. If Iupati cannot play, the Cardinals will be reaching deep into the depth chart.
Defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, who was gone all week after the death of his father, is also questionable, but Wilks said he expected Gunter to be back for the game.
For the Raiders, receivers Martavis Bryant (knee) and Jordy Nelson (knee) are out. Cornerback Gareon Conley (groin), linebacker Kyle Wilber (knee) and cornerback Nick Nelson (illness) are questionable.
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Oakland Raiders