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What to watch for: Cardinals at Raiders

The third Raiders preseason game will include more first team reps than any other.

This includes the Cardinals, too, who travel to Oakland with one of the best defenses in the league, as well as former Raiders Jared Veldheer and Carson Palmer.

Both were jettisoned by general manager Reggie McKenzie, though there are two entirely different sides to the Veldheer story — the more believable one being that Veldheer’s agent, his brother, was not realistic in his negotiating and that the Raiders may have offered the better contract, save for taxes.

Oakland found more cost-effective options in both areas, and we’ll see exactly what that means Sunday night.

Veldheer will spend his evening lining up against Justin Tuck or Khalil Mack, likely both, and Mack should be able to win that one.

Arizona has spent plenty of dough on their offensive line, they brought in top guard Mike Iupati this free agent period, and while there’s varying opinions on how good the line really is, the Raiders need this one for evaluation just as much.

What cannot be questioned is how good Arizona’s defensive backfield is. They’re damn good. And Amari Cooper will see his first elite corner, or so it seems, in Patrick Peterson.

Oakland’s secondary will have their hands full with Larry Fitzgerald, who is likely to reach the top 10 in career receptions for a receiver this season and is still only 31.

The Cardinals have a lot of things the Raiders would like to have, they’re just more experienced versions. A shut down corner, a receiver who has an excellent shot at the hall of fame, and a quarterback who is decent, and may be pretty good.

The player evaluation elements don’t stop at who’s getting cut, why, or any of the more detailed and bogged down parts of roster shenanigans.

This game is truly something that can help measure where the Raiders will be to open the season. They do it at home, which helps in theory but not often in reality, though it should help ignite the fan base if Oakland shows out.

Which might boost the confidence of the roster.

The Cooper versus Peterson matchup should be fun to watch. There’s an edge to Peterson — we know what he can do, and it’s not favorable to anyone.

Fitzgerald versus Oakland’s secondary also favors the veteran. But holding him to less than one reception per drive should be something to be happy about.

Arizona’s ground game has been putrid at best when looking at the recent samples, and Oakland’s run defense has been improved tenfold this offseason.

If Arizona runs at four yards per carry over the first half, that’s something to worry about. Even for preseason.

The Raiders, too, should have some trouble running against the Cardinals, though Murray needs this one more than anyone. Oakland says he’s their man.

I believe them — Roy Helu is injured, and after him, it’s an open competition for the third spot. But given the small sample for Murray, and the fact that half of his 82 carries in 2014 were for two yards or less, and 20 percent went for zero gain or worse, it’s difficult not to wonder how the Raiders really feel.

Cardinals running back David Johnson is worth watching, even if it comes late in the game. He’s the type of player the Raiders covet, and is probably what the Raiders will have in Helu.

The key difference being that Helu has a more pronounced burst.

What the Raiders need

Oakland has to clamp down 10 yards and further while on defense. They have to, and it’s no easy thing to do against this team — especially second year receiver John Brown, who this author absolutely loves as a talent.

If the Raiders secondary gets burnt here, it only confirms a belief that it’s a positional group that still requires a lot of wrenching. Even if the young fellas need reps, which they certainly do if they’re ever going to grow, there’s no questioning how important they are to the overall standings.

Run defense doesn’t seem like much of a concern, but running the football is. Oakland was set for historic lows last season, in part because they were playing from behind a lot, but also because they were awful, terrible, negligent and otherwise ugly between the tackles.

It will be promising if the Raiders can run the ball on Arizona.

What is most important is how quarterback Derek Carr handles pressure, and how often he throws deep. He’s not had a lot of success throwing deep, though it’s hard to blame him for that, and finally has a number of legitimate targets.

Oakland’s best receiver from 2014 was James Jones, who is having trouble latching onto a roster, as nice as a guy as he really is.

If Carr reaches somewhere around a 65 percent completion rating, with one or two throws beyond 20 yards, and more than 150 passing yards, call it a win.

Those are pretty good numbers given the expected snap count, and stretched out for a full four quarters, would put the Raiders in an excellent position against anybody.

Especially a team like the Cardinals, with Peterson, Brown and Fitzgerald.

Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.

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