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Too good to be true?: Reasons for optimism and concern for Sunday’s game against the Lions

The Cardinals are once again home favorites on Sunday. The vibes are all positive around this team. But are there any reasons for concern in this matchup against the Lions?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Can Kyler add to his rushing totals against the Lions this weekend?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

How are we feeling these days, Cardinals fans? Pretty good, I imagine, pretty good indeed. We’re 2-0 with Kyler Murray playing like a potential MVP, DeAndre Hopkins as advertised, and the defense looking much improved. I know I haven’t felt this good about the Cardinals in years.

This weekend, a struggling 0-2 Detroit Lions team limps onto the desert. The Redbirds are solid 5.5-point favorites at home. We’ve gotta like our chances to go 3-0 on Sunday, right?

But are we maybe feeling a little too good right now? This is the Cardinals, after all. So while there are definite reasons for optimism going into Sunday’s game, there are a few reasons for concern as well. Let’s explore both viewpoints today.

Reason for optimism: The offense is just getting started.

While Kyler has had an amazing start to the season, his elite rushing numbers are the biggest reason why—he’s been merely fine as a passer. He’s only averaging about 250 YPG with only 2 TDs (and 2 INTs). Those numbers will come up as Hopkins continues to grow more comfortable in the offense and as secondary receivers start to step up (is it about to be Andy Isabella time?). Also consider that Kenyan Drake has yet to really get going, only averaging about 75 YPG with just 1 TD. The offense has been good so far (#6 in YPG, #12 in PPG), but, if anything, it has underperformed relative to its potential so far. Sunday could be the day Kliff and Kyler really show what they can do (see below).

Reason for concern: The Lions might get Kenny Golladay back.

Detroit has been without Kenny Golladay for the first two games, but it’s looking like he’ll make his season debut on Sunday. Golladay isn’t quite in the DeAndre Hopkins tier of alpha WRs, but he’s right there in that next tier, having averaged 1,100 yards and 8 TDs over the past two seasons. At 6’4”, he’s a matchup nightmare for most CBs and is a high-point and contested-catch specialist. The Redbirds have held him in check, yardage-wise, in his career (fewer than 40 YPG), but he does have 3 TD catches in 3 career games against us. His presence makes life much easier for Matthew Stafford and opens things up for secondary targets—like TE T.J. Hockenson, who victimized us last year and is off to a strong start this year (60 YPG, 1 TD). I would feel a lot better about this game if Golladay were out for another week.

Reason for optimism: This Lions defense is BAD.

While the Lions’ offense has been passable so far, the defense has been bad—I’m talking 2018/2019 Cardinals bad. They’re #27 in YPG (425.5) and #30 in PPG (34.5). They’ve actually been decent against the pass (221 YPG, #9—just behind the Cardinals), but that’s only because teams have found it so easy to run against them. They’ve given up an astounding 204.0 YPG on the ground (6.5 YPC), dead-last in the league. The Redbirds’ #5 rushing attack (170.0 YPG, 5.0 YPC) has to be salivating right now. And although the yardage numbers for the passing defense look good on the surface, they’ve also given up a 5:0 TD:INT ratio and an opposing passer rating of 105.7 (#24)—and keep in mind that one of the QBs they’ve faced was Mitchell Trubisky. Kyler and the boys shouldn’t encounter much resistance from this unit on Sunday no matter what they do.

Reason for concern: The Lions will be desperate.

The Lions have started 0-2 but, even worse, haven’t won a game in nearly a calendar year. So the Lions will be coming out swinging at State Farm Stadium. An 0-2 start is rough, but you can maybe recover from it. But 0-3? It’s pretty much season over at that point—and Matt Patricia might be out of a job on Monday morning (see below). So the one thing that Cardinals can’t do is be complacent and let this team hang around. Remember last week when we went up big and then immediately gave up two 75-yard-plus TD drives in almost no time? Well that was against Dwayne Haskins. Stafford is more dangerous by a longshot. The Cardinals need to score early and often and keep the foot on the gas (and other clichés)—especially on defense. This game might be one of the biggest tests of Kliff Kingsbury’s coaching ability that he’s yet seen.

Reason for optimism: We have a clear coaching advantage.

As I mentioned above, Lions coach Matt Patricia is on the hot seat—he currently has the third-highest odds to be the first coach fired this season. He has a 9–24–1 record in 2+ seasons in Detroit, and the only reason he survived last season’s 3-12-1 disaster is because Stafford missed most of the season due to injury. In his time in Detroit, he’s overseen one of the consistently worst run games in the league, his defenses have floundered (and remember he won two Super Bowl rings as the Patriots DC), and they have routinely blown big leads (4 games blowing double-digit leads and counting). He is unquestionable one of the worst head coaches in the league. On our sideline, Kliff Kingsbury didn’t exactly set the world on fire in his 5-10-1 debut season, but he’s come a long way in areas like red zone playcalling and clock management. If he can guide this team to the playoffs, he’ll be a surefire Coach of the Year candidate. The coaching mismatch will be a big benefit for the Cardinals in this matchup.

Reason for concern: Is this start too good to be true?

This one isn’t based on any statistic or trend. Just a nagging feeling that won’t go away, a cynicism that this team has ingrained in me for as long as I can remember. That’s what rooting for the second-most-losing NFL franchise in history will do to you, I guess. Expect the worst, hope for the best. So although all the numbers and matchups and momentum are in the Cardinals’ favor, I can’t say I would be shocked if we found a way to lose this one. Now, mind you, I don’t think we will; I’m just saying that we could. This doesn’t seem like quite as much of a layup as last week’s game against Washington. But it’ll take a lot more winning for that feeling to go away.

Final Thoughts

I have another feeling about this team, though—a feeling that this team might be different, that Kliff and Kyler are leading this franchise into a new era. An era where the Cardinals aren’t laughingstocks, also-rans, or heartbreakers. It’s an interesting feeling, and one I can’t say I’ve had before—not with Carson and Arians, not even with Kurt and Fitz. I hope it doesn’t go away anytime soon—and maybe it will eventually kill that Cardinals cynicism in me.