In the NFL there are no excuses for losses, and that’s something that the Cardinals could have to deal with even more today if they find themselves 0-2 to start the 2013 NFL season.
Week one exposed the Cardinals two main weaknesses, the lack of athleticism and coverage ability from the inside linebacker position and the safeties.
They have an excuse, their best coverage linebacker, Daryl Washington, is out for at least four games to start the 2013 season, and teams with the ability to send speed into the middle of the field are going to look to do that relentlessly.
This week, theirs the real chance that Larry Fitzgerald will be out, or at least limited in his ability to make an impact in the game.
If Fitzgerald is limited or worse, out, the Cardinals young receiving core will get to experience life without single coverage on every down, and show that they can still be effective without Fitz in the lineup.
When the Cardinals have the ball
There was a definitive advantage for the Cardinals coming into this game in the form of the Cardinals receiving core versus the young, but improving Lions secondary.
Larry Fitzgerald makes even the best corners in the NFL look silly, and the average group in Detroit would be in for a long day trying to bracket Fitz.
Now with Larry possibly slowed or out, the question becomes, can the young receiving core step up and be effective without one of the best to ever play the position taking pressure off of them?
Key to the success of the wide receivers is obviously Carson Palmer staying upright and being able to get the ball down the field for chunk plays, and while the Lions may not have a singular outside rusher with the abilities of Robert Quinn yet, their defensive rotation at defensive end, and the dominance of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the middle, is a different animal than the one the offensive line struggled to stop in week one.
Keeping Palmer clean and allowing him time to be effective in those deeper passing sets will determine if the Cardinals are able to take advantage of the Lions suspect secondary.
Running the ball will be tough, but the key will be to keep the game close enough, and get enough positive plays from Mendenhall, Smith, and Ellington (who may be the key to unlocking the running games success) to make the defense believe that you’ll run the ball on any down.
Match-up to watch: Willie Young and Ezekiel Ansah v Levi Brown
Brown was beaten on 11% of his pass blocking sets, giving up three sacks and two additional quarterback pressures on only 45 pass blocking snaps.
Meanwhile the combination of Young and Ansah had one sack and seven additional quarterback pressures on only 35 combined pass rushing attempts against Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil.
Brown has to prevent Young and Ansah from getting pressure on Palmer in order for the Cardinals to have success today.
When the Lions have the ball
The blueprint is simple as was talked about on Tuesday, it’s the execution that is a worry in week two.
The Cardinals first need to find a way to get Matthew Stafford off his spot when throwing the ball.
When Stafford was under pressure in week one against the Vikings his stats dropped, not badly, but he was still less effective: 7-12 58% v 21-31 67%.
The Cardinals have to find a way to get pressure on Stafford and make him move his feet, as that is typically when bad things happen for the young quarterback.
If the Cardinals are able to slow down the Lions passing game, there are still concerns on stopping the Lions running game, which went for 115 yards on 27 attempts, 4.3 ypc, against the Vikings.
The key for the Cardinals defense will be to make rushing the ball not an option for the Lions, and finding a way to get to Stafford when he’s throwing the ball.
Match-up to watch: Bell and Bush v the Cardinals linebackers/secondary
While many will be glued to the likely fantastic Peterson v Johnson one on one battle, that likely won’t be the key to the game.
It will be the Cardinals ability to stop the short passing and screen game the Lions used so well in week one.
Final Score: Cardinals 35 Lions 32 (although if Fitz doesn’t play this would change)