It seems that whenever the Lions and Cardinals play, some crazy things happen in their games.
The Cardinals from 2017 to 2020 have had some weird games go down—from a David Johnson injury and a tie game in season openers to a lackadaisical offensive performance that might have sunk Steve Wilks in 2018 to the crazy 4th quarter and overtime rally in Kyler Murray’s first start.
This game was no different, with Murray turning the ball over 3 times (in what should have been four) and Arizona losing on a late field goal as the Lions picked up their first win of the year.
Who were the winners and losers? Let’s break it down, starting with the obvious:
Winner: Matt Patricia’s Tenure
Starting 0-2 in the NFL is almost a death sentence for most teams, but an 0-3 start puts you so far in the hole it’s tough to dig out from it. Matt Patricia, interestingly enough, has had his share of success against Arizona. In fact, technically, they’ve never beaten him:
Crazy stat: the Cardinals have not beaten the Lions since they played them in 2015 despite facing Matt Patricia 3 times.— Blake Allen Murphy (@blakemurphy7) September 28, 2020
In 2019, they only tied them.
Patricia’s only won 9 games in the NFL before this season (!) since he joined the team as their head coach in 2018, and Arizona accounted for his 10th win. When you factor in the tie, it means that 1⁄3 of the time Patricia has “not lost”...it’s been against Arizona.
Strange. But for a coach who’s taken a few years to seem to figure out who he is, it was certainly a season-saving victory if not helping avoid questions about his job security.
LOSER: Kyler Murray over the middle of the field
Murray uncharacteristically was inconsistent in the game, completing 23 of 35 passes in the game with 2 touchdowns and a rushing TD to boot.
And yet 4 of those 12 incompletions were or should have been easy interceptions for the Lions.
The first pick was on a high throw to Dan Arnold that was batted in the air by Arnold and picked off. The second was a laser that stared down Fitzgerald all the way, and the 3rd was similar—rolling to the right and throwing back across his body to Hopkins.
What all 3 had in common was that there was a lot of traffic and Kyler seemed to trust his arm to make the throw while the NFL DB’s had more than enough close coverage to snag the ball and in one case, might have scored if not for a saving tackle. Kyler also had a 3rd straight game with an intentional grounding from the pocket call.
All in all, wasn’t a sharp day at the office despite the rest of the stats looking just fine.
I don’t think this game will hurt Murray’s confidence so much as teach him a bit about having to develop decisions that help, not hurt, the team when they take away his legs like the Lions did. He forced a few throws and it definitely cost the team.
It also means that NFL defenses are going to now force him to do what he did in this game: stay in the pocket, try to bait him into throws over the middle and take away his legs. It’ll be on Murray to adjust, and if he’d avoided these mistakes, as he said, Arizona likely wins this game handily.
Where he needs to work:
- Throwing on the run
- Timing/throwing it away patterns to ensure there’s a receiver in the area
- Using touch over the middle of the field
The FItzgerald staredown will come with time, but each of these three areas we’ve seen some issues with Murray. Fixable? Absolutely. But it’ll take a lot of work to get them up to speed in the middle of a season in which Arizona’s already raised their expectations.
WINNER: Andy Isabella, What a Fella
Was there any doubt that this would be one of the winners from today’s game?
With Christian Kirk out there were questions about if Isabella or KeeSean Johnson would step up to fill the void and, well....
Andy Isabella hive ASSEMBLE pic.twitter.com/gQhyvXLGJG— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) September 27, 2020
Isabella walked away with 4 catches for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns. For perspective, Christian Kirk has 3 catches for 57 yards through the first 3 games of the season (granted he missed this one but...availability is indeed needed in the NFL to produce).
It’ll be interesting if he gets more playing time moving forward now, even if Kirk is healthy. Clearly he seems to do good things every time he touches the ball.
LOSER: Safeties Needed a Keim Time...is it a Sign?
The Cardinals safeties...yikes.
Already missing Jalen Thompson on IR since the 2nd play of the season, this news dropped in the AM sinking most Cardinal fans:
#AZCardinals Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker will play today vs the #Lions, but he’ll do so while dealing with a UCL tear in his thumb, sources say. The highest-paid safety plans to have surgery next week. My story on what it means: https://t.co/oYvJUu7MT4— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 27, 2020
So no Jalen, no Budda. Well, at least it’s hopefully only for a week and Chris Banjo can fill in to.....
S Chris Banjo going to the locker room. Cardinals dealing with a lot of injuries at safety.— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) September 27, 2020
Depleted secondary causing problems for AZ. Curtis Riley, backup to the backup to the backup safety missed that tackle— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) September 27, 2020
I have to say—no one can predict losing your top 3 safeties within the first 3 weeks of the season in the NFL.
But it was a biiiit shocking to me that Steve Keim recognized that he needed a better veteran depth player on the defensive line after Zach Allen and brought in Antonio Blackson (a nice addition) but decided to roll with the likes of Charles Washington and a small signee in Curtis Riley who ended up seeing the field despite JUST getting here.
I don’t think the poor secondary is responsible for the loss. But, it does show how there’s times when Keim could bring in a veteran who can rotate and spell Baker/Thompson and be a security blanket for depth similar to how Blackson’s been able to spell Phillips and Allen and make an impact.
It’s probably too late, and while it didn’t cost Arizona the game solely due to one position, it definitely was something that secured the win for the Lions. Fortunately, it might only be one more week of poor safety play before getting at least two of their players at the position back, so we’ll see if any changes happen.
WINNER: Justin Murray & His future with the team
Murray got some work in at both right guard and left guard (and as an extra blocker in jumbo packages) yesterday, spelling a series for both Pugh and Sweezy.
It wasn’t because either was playing bad or hurt, either. Rather, it seems to be a way to work him in and get some snaps similar to how Mason Cole got reps in 2019, and took over as a starter in 2020.
If the Cardinals can see Murray on a similar trajectory, that’s a win in terms of being able to find talent incoming to replace guys leaving without missing a beat. Which is what winning organizations do
LOSER: The overall gameplan shift by Kingsbury & Joseph’s tendencies
After Kyler threw his 3rd interception, Kingsbury seemed to have less passes over the middle and more to the outside...and not as many runs with Kenyan Drake despite the Lions’ terrible run defense.
Larry Fitzgerald finished with 1 catch for 0 yards for only the 2nd time in his career as a result, and given that he’s a slot/over the middle possession receiver now, I can’t help but think the two are related.
Vance Joseph, on the other hand, saw improved play in the redzone, holding Detroit to two field goals on two of the Murray interceptions....yet still threw it back to 2019 after Stafford drove the Lions down for a touchdown and the game winning kick in the least 2-4 minutes of each half.
That ain’t winning situational football.
Perhaps this game was a dud (it’s hard to get rhythm when you’re moving the ball and scoring or turning the ball over on every series) and an outlier but it was the same sort of sloppy, inconsistent play we’ve seen from Arizona.
And the first bad outing for their defense, truly.
Fortunately, the team’s still managed to be talented enough to put up points and avoid the massive blowouts that were typical of the previous season. But it’ll speak to those who question if Kingsbury can elevate to an elite offensive playcaller versus have some random bouts of playcalling that is questioned (remember: if a play works it was definitely the right play and NOT at all results-based bias...he said sarcastically).
The bigger question will be Joseph and in how he’s so far shown some concerns where teams seem to be guessing a few of his calls or makes a bizarre decision or two that costs his team.
Blitzing Patrick Peterson on the most important 3rd down of the day rather than keeping him out in coverage worked with the Giants game last year when the team was protecting a lead, but in a tie game where a P2 pick could have ended it...it was a bit baffling. Similar to how when he blitzed Budda Baker one time the Lions’ playcall had already accounted for it in a nearly perfect way, expecting pressure from that side:
Cardinals defense getting gashed. Bevell seems to have a good idea of what Joseph might be calling.— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) September 27, 2020
Cause for concern?
Sure, but what else would you call a game in which Arizona couldn’t get it going in all 3 phases.
I think most fans can be grateful, however, that this was still a close game to the wire in spite of the struggles throughout.
And that, at the least, should provide some hope in what Kingsbury and Joseph are doing.
Who were your winners and losers? Sound off in the comments section!