GLENDALE, Ariz. -- We’ve hit that point in this season where fans start to question the merits of a win over a loss.
The No. 1 overall draft pick is in play for the 1-8 Raiders. In fact, they’re in pole position to get it, with the two-win New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers just behind. A winning streak would hurt Oakland's draft position, something the players don’t care one bit about right now.
The Raiders still are striving to win games, and that’s a goal realistically reached Sunday against the Cardinals. Arizona has struggled mightily this season, on offense in particular, with both of its wins coming against a down-on-their-luck 49ers squad.
The Raiders must score against a savvy Cardinals defense that possesses an excellent pass rush, and they also must rattle rookie quarterback Josh Rosen enough to negate gains from running back extraordinaire David Johnson.
Here are four Raiders who can help achieve those ends Sunday in Arizona.
WR Seth Roberts
The Raiders are down several receivers. Amari Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys a few weeks back. Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson now are down with knee injuries. Jared Cook will be the primary target, but Roberts must be a reliable secondary both outside and from the slot.
Roberts has a penchant for dramatic catches and scoring plays, though opportunities have been rare this season while he was mired further down on the depth chart. He’s back in the starting lineup Sunday, and must find ways to make big plays and take pressure off Cook. He’s also a stout run blocker, and could help free Doug Martin and Jalen Richard once those rushers reach the second level.
MLB Jason Cabinda
The Raiders made a position switch last week, moving Marquel Lee to strongside linebacker from the middle. That served two masters: 1. It helped strengthen the SAM spot, and 2. It gave Cabinda more opportunities from his natural position.
The undrafted rookie made his first NFL start and platooned with Nicholas Morrow in the middle. Cabinda has drawn praise all week, and coaches believe he can be a regular contributor from the middle linebacker spot.
“Cabinda, you’ve got that Penn State Linebacker U tradition all over him,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s got that stuff. We need that at middle linebacker. Haven’t had a middle linebacker in terms of stability here for awhile, maybe since Greg Biekert (from 1993-2001). I don’t know when the last time was that we had a linebacker that played in the middle for two, three, four years in a row.
"He’s got those leadership traits. He’s a great communicator. Passionate about the game. He’s improving.”
Safety Karl Joseph
The team’s 2016 first-round pick either was hurt or buried on the depth chart for most of the season, but he played far more against the Chargers than any other game. He spent 27 of his 48 defensive snaps inside the box, where he can be most effective against the run. He had five total tackles, with three close enough to the line of scrimmage to constitute an offensive failure, according to Pro Football Focus metrics.
“He did a good job in there,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He had some nice hits, some good blitz pass. Did a good job in coverage for the most part. He’s a guy who will continue to progress, and I think he’s coming along right where we want him.”
Raiders safety play has been lackluster at best, and Joseph was effective at times and certainly worth a longer look as coaches evaluate young players. He could help slow Johnson some as an extra run defender, or assist in middle-of-the-field pass coverage. His size (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) is of concern against bigger receivers, but his main focus is on being more consistent. He’ll have to be against the Cardinals' attack. The Raiders simply need better from the safety spot.
LT Kolton Miller
This year's first-round pick was a full participant in practice this week for the first time in some time, meaning his ailing knee is starting to improve. That will be important in what might be his toughest challenge yet.
Miller will go up against Arizona edge rusher Chandler Jones, who already has 8.5 sacks and can be dominant rushing the passer. Miller has been solid when healthy and has struggled some while battling injury. He is working through those rigors while trying to maintain solid form.
"There’s a difference between pain and injury. I think he’s realizing that,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “He has done a nice job in that regard. He has played with nicks throughout the season, his elbow, his knee, a number of different things that he’s experienced since he’s been here, knowing that he still has half a season left. He’s getting a real taste of what the NFL is like and the pain you have to play with.”
He’ll have a tough battle with Jones, though he’ll get some help from tight ends, running backs and left guard Kelechi Osemele. Miller must win regularly to keep Derek Carr upright and the Raiders' offense moving.