Game 3 presents an interesting challenge for the 2-0 Arizona Cardinals. This game has all of the feel of a trap game, because the Detroit Lions are coming off two NFC Central divisional losses to the Bears 27-23 and to the Packers 42-21.
The Lions jumped out to early leads in both games and they pretty much had the game in hand versus the Bears until usually reliable K Matt Prater missed a FG that would have put the Lions up 26-13 with 4:23 left in the 4th quarter. Also, thanks in part to a key interception by Kyle Fuller, the Bears scored two TDs in the final 4 minutes to squeeze out the win.
The Lions battled the Packers toe to toe in the 1st half at Lambeau Field—-going up 14-3 after one quarter and then trailing 17-14 at halftime before the Packers ran away with the win in the second half, thanks to 17 unanswered points in the 3rd quarter.
The point is—-the Lions have plenty of talent in all three phases of their roster—-they have a veteran QB who is capable of putting up big numbers, thanks to having one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, a trio of talented WRs, a budding stud at TE and a hard running tailback. On the defensive side of the ball, they are athletic and physical up front, their linebackers are quick to the ball, but thus far, their secondary has had its share of problems. On special teams, their kicking game is very good and their units are well coached.
I think the Cardinals are going to come out hungry again, especially knowing their loved ones will be on hand to cheer them. How “sensational” would it feel to watch DeAndre Hopkins catch his 2nd TD as a Cardinal and hand the ball for the first time at State Farm Stadium to his mom, Sabrina Greenlee? Wow.
Offensive Personnel Comparison (Week 1-2 PFF grades):
WR3 Fitzgerald—-62.7—-M. Jones—-61.4
C Gaillard—-48.6—-Ragnow—-89.1 (Cole*—-62.4)
Defensive Personnel Comparison (Week 1 PFF grades):
DT Blackson—-62.4—-N. Williams—-45.7
LB Campbell—-60.0—-C. Jones—-62.3
Special Teams Personnel Comparison (Week 1 PFF grades):
PFF Team Comparisons (after 2 games):
Overall: ARI: 62.3—-DET: 59.7
Offense: ARI: 63.6—-DET: 68.3
Passing: ARI: 65.5—-DET: 60.9
Pass Blocking: ARI: 65.0—-DET: 75.8
Receiving: ARI: 65.9—-DET: 63.8
Rushing: ARI: 72.4—-DET: 59.5
Run Blocking: ARI: 47.2—-DET: 74.2
Defense: ARI: 56.7—-DET: 45.4
Run Defense: ARI: 43.8—-DET: 46.4
Tackling: ARI: 55.6—-DET: 53.2
Pass Rush: ARI: 63.3—-DET: 63.5
Pass Coverage: ARI: 60.8—-DET: 43.0
Special Teams: ARI: 76.5—-DET: 68.2
Comparison: ARI has higher scores in 8 of the 13 categories.
The Game 3 Nitty Grittys for the Cardinals:
- Running the ball with sustained success—-I think Sean Kugler and Brian Natkin have made run blocking an emphasis this week—-and that Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds could put up some good numbers in this game.
- Exploiting the Lions’ secondary—-last year the Lions’ man defense gave the Cardinals problems for 3 quarters. However, DeAndre Hopkins is going to be a tough matchup for Desmond Trufant, which likely means that Matt Patricia will shade the FS Tracy Walker to Hopkins’ side.
- The question is whether Patricia will do what the 49ers did and move the other safety, veteran Duron Harmon to the deep half in a Cover 2 look, particularly seeing how Andy Isabella and Christian Kirk got open deep in Week 2—-but by doing that, it could create more running opportunities for Kyler Murray—-and it could create stronger opportunities for Murray to throw to Larry Fitzgerald at the “Y” receiver and to the TEs Arnold and Thomas.
- The Lions’ pass rush, which will try to contain Kyler Murray has produced 25 QB pressures, 2 sacks and 0 interceptions in 2 games, with Trey Flowers and Jamie Collins having 1 sack each. Conversely, while the Cardinals also do not have an interception after 2 games, they have produced 28 QB pressures and 7 sacks.
- The Lions are going to test the middle and perimeter of the Cardinals’ defense with smash mouth running plays to Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson and screens and flare passes to D’Andre Swift. This week the Cardinals’ ILBers and safeties need to apply quicker reads and downhill tackles. The Cardinals have always had their hands full in the past with Peterson and they cannot let him dominate this game.
- But, if the Cardinals can be very competitive in stopping the run, the defensive key to the game is finding ways to get pressure in Matthew Stafford’s face versus an OL that has graded very well in pass protection and the defense needs to hold up well in its coverage matchups, which, are perhaps likely to be:
TE1 Hockenson—-Reddick or Simmons in 34 base, Campbell on passing downs
- The matchup that the Cardinals need to be careful about is which LB they assign to the speedy D’Andre Swift. The two most athletic options: Haason Reddick and Isaiah Simmons.
- What also is of concern is in Vance Joseph’s defense, he tends to have the ILBers defend the run as top priority, but then if they read pass, they run to try pick up the TE. This is not going to work versus the Lions. They have tape to prove it from last year’s game. TE T.J. Hockenson is their leading receiver and he is too fast and athletic to cover for an ILB not lined straight up on him.
- Can the Cardinals come up with a big, splash STs play, three weeks in a row?
- The team’s kicking tandems are very good: Gonzalez (4/6 FG, 6/6 XP))/Lee (48.5 ave., 42.8 net ) vs. Prater (3/5 FG, 5/5 XP)/Fox (52.0 ave., 51.3 net). Look at the Lions’ punt coverage on Fox’s 52.0 average. One would imagine that Jeff Rodgers is challenging his punt and punt return units to win the punting matchup this week. Andy Isabella may have something to say about that.
The way the Cardinals’ coaches are apt to make sure this isn’t a trap game is to have the players watch the tape of last year’s Week 1 27-27 tie that nobody knew how to react to afterward. The players appear to be maintaining a humble sense of composure. It was refreshing to hear DT Jordan Phillips, when asked about the Cardinals’ pass rush success say, “it’s 2 games, don’t crown us yet.” Plus, all week the Cardinals have been chirping about the many plays they left on the field in Week 2. The odds are pretty strong that they will be eager and hungry to keep their momentum and their improvement growing against a very capable opponent.