GLENDALE, Ariz. — Robert Nkemdiche picked up in Saturday’s game where he left off during his previous week of practice.
The second-year Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle disrupted the Oakland Raiders‘ offense early and often Saturday night in a 20-10 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium. He had three tackles, including a crucial third-down stop in the second quarter. The chatter around Cardinals camp about Nkemdiche for the past couple of weeks has been about how he’s showing signs of improvement and maturity from last season. It’s starting to translate into games. Nkemdiche was a constant in the Raiders’ backfield, forcing plays away from him while affecting the game down to down.
QB depth chart: Saturday showed it makes all the difference whom a quarterback plays with. A week after running with the second team, Blaine Gabbert played with the third-string offense and looked average compared to his stellar performance in the Hall of Fame Game. He was sacked four times and threw for just 53 yards as a combination of poor protection and dropped passes didn’t help the six-year veteran’s cause. By comparison, starter Carson Palmer knocked off some rust and led the Cards on a 14-play touchdown drive, then backup Drew Stanton threw for 112 yards and a touchdown on 11-for-15 passing.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Cardinals looked …: a bit rusty, but they were able to move the ball down the field efficiently in a 14-play drive that went 70 yards for a touchdown in 6 minutes, 36 seconds. The Cardinals’ starting defense gave up two big plays early but stopped the Raiders on third down to end any threat of a touchdown.
One reason to be concerned: When John Brown isn’t on the field, the Cardinals’ receivers seem to lack another big-play option beyond Larry Fitzgerald. That was the case Saturday, when Brown was dressed but didn’t see the field as he continued to recover from a quadriceps injury. But without him, Arizona is in need of a playmaker, someone who can compete for fade routes in the corner of the end zone or take hits across the middle. Without that receiver, the Cardinals might struggle to find crucial plays when they need them most.