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Saturday before football Sunday: What to watch for in Cardinals-Lions

Cardinals are one win away from clinching a playoff berth

Detroit Lions v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals will visit the Detroit Lions on Sunday, with Arizona looking to secure a spot in the playoffs while the Lions are hoping to play spoilers in an overall disappointing season.

After a gut-punch effort in the Cardinals’ 30-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football, they will want nothing more than to win convincing on Sunday in Detroit. The Cardinals are the best team on the road, winning by double digits in all seven away games and outscoring their opponents 230-118 as visitors.

Meanwhile, the Lions are 3-0-1 against the Cardinals in their previous four matchups since 2017.

Will the 10-3 Arizona Cardinals get back on track with a win against a struggling 1-11-1 Detroit Lions team? Or will the Lions continue their success against the Cardinals and pull off a huge upset on Sunday?

Here are three things to watch for in Week 15:

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

1. Limiting Kyler Murray’s turnovers which starts with better decision making

Kyler Murray is having a really good 2021 season but one of the recurring issues that he has struggled to fix are his turnovers.

  • Murray was picked off by Kevin Byard in Week 1 in very tight coverage
  • Murray throwing the football right into the hands of Nick Vigil for a pick 6 in Week 2
  • Murray’s interception from Andrew Wingard was the Jaguars’ first interception of the season in Week 3
  • Murray forcing the ball to Zach Ertz on two separate plays that led to two interceptions in Week 14

The one thing the Cardinals absolutely do not want is to give their opponents momentum to swing the tide of a game which has happened in some their wins and losses this season. Whether it is Murray staring down his targets, falling for the trap of flushing to the left side of the field to throw a pass, and just flat out forcing passes in small windows, these turnover-worthy actions must be limited moving forward. Cardinals made the same mistakes a year ago against the Lions, who intercepted Murray three times in 2020. The Lions currently have the ninth-fewest takeaways on defense but their breakout cornerback in Amani Oruwariye is tied for the third-most interceptions (5) in the NFL.

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2. Can the Cardinals stop the Lions’ run game composed of Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, and Craig Reynolds?

Almost every week, the biggest issue with the Arizona Cardinals’ defense is their inability to stop the run. Sony Michel’s 20-79-0 stat line might not look impressive to many but he had his way against Arizona last Monday. Dalvin Cook, James Robinson, Christian McCaffrey, David Montgomery. You name the starting running back that played against the Cardinals and there is a good chance that player did well.

Whether there are issues schematically or with personnel, the Cardinals need to resolve their run defense issues quickly. Why quickly? Well after the Lions, Colts’ Jonathan Taylor, Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott, and Seahawks’ Rashaad Penny, who is coming off a 137-yard performance, are up next. The Lions 17th-ranked run offense will be without their top running backs in D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams but Craig Reynolds is coming off a really solid performance as a starter with 13 touches and 93 scrimmage yards. Cardinals’ defense must respond.

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

3. COVID-19, Injuries, Next-Man-Up Mentality

The Lions have 13 players on injured reserve, including star tight end T.J. Hockenson. Both D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams are out for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. Looking at Arizona, they will be without All-Pro Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Center Rodney Hudson, who was placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list a couple days ago. Hudson’s replacement options have struggled in his place earlier this season in Max Garcia and Sean Harlow.

With the NFL dealing with a surge of positive COVID-19 tests, some games have either been postponed or will continue to be played on schedule (which still does not make any sense to me). For the games that will be played on time that have been impacted with the virus, next-man-up mentality has to be the way to go. Andy Isabella had a pair of touchdowns in last year’s meeting against the Lions. With Hopkins out for possibly the entire season, Isabella should be active for the remainder of the year. Antoine Wesley will likely see extended action in Hopkins’ place as the outside receiver as Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore stay in the slot. A.J. Green becomes the de facto no. 1 receiver for the Cardinals, who has 654 yards on the season.

Overall

To keep it very short. Play smarter, not harder. If the Cardinals’ prioritize the run game with James Conner and Chase Edmonds against a Lions’ defense that has allowed the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL, that should put less pressure on Murray which should reduce any potential turnover-worthy decisions.

A Cardinals win or tie on Sunday will clinch a playoff berth for their first time since 2015. If they win by double digits, they will become the first team in NFL history to win by 10 or more points through eight road games in a single season.

The Cardinals-Lions game is scheduled to kick off at 1 P.M. Eastern Time at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.