A lot has changed since the Cardinals and Lions met back in December of 2018 after a 17-3 win by the visiting Lions. General Manager Steve Keim had a busy offseason filling the numerous holes on each side of the ball via the draft, free agency, and the 1st claim on the waiver wire. Out went the likes of Josh Rosen, Josh Bynes, Mike Iupati, Chad Williams, and Phil Dawson, and in came a new roster with talented draft picks, Jordan Hicks, hometown hero Terrell Suggs, and recently added Michael Crabtree. In addition, with the new players came a new head coach, coaching staff, and different offensive/defensive schemes. In came the Air Raid offense, with expectations still unknown. There is a lot to be excited about this year as a fan of the bird gang, but it is important that the team gains confidence with a win on Sunday to quiet the NFL critics and rejuvenate a frustrated fan base. Below are the 3 matchups for this week that will inevitably dictate the outcome of the game this Sunday:
1. Cardinals DEs & Edge Rush vs. Detroit OL
As we all know by now, the Cardinals Defensive Line has had its struggles this offseason as Darius Philon was released, expected depth contributor Terrell McClain was cut after failing to make an impact, and much of the current depth on the line has now been filled with recently signed players, meaning they have not had a chance to adjust to the defensive scheme. However, excuses are just words, and I expect the defensive line to set the tone in this game because if they do not, things could get out of hand quickly with the violent running Kerryon Johnson leading the way for the Lions. What I am looking for is not as much winning at the line against the Detroit OL, but containment on the edges. Can the Cardinals ends of Zach Allen, Rodney Gunter, and co. contain the outside with the help of EDGE rushers Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs? The Cardinals were gashed time and time again for big running plays outside in 2018, and it will be something that must show improvement this time around. Can the Cardinals play disciplined, gap assigned defense? Can they generate pressure off of the edge to redirect run plays into the heart of the defense? It will be important that the Cardinals do not let the Lions OL pull them too much inwards because if they do, Kerryon Johnson has the speed and ability to make them pay.
2. Cardinals Secondary vs. Kenny Golladay & Marvin Jones
Matthew Stafford likes to throw the football deep. This is a FACT that data supports, and he has had extremely capable deep ball receivers throughout his career such as Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate to name a few. Enter Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. In my opinion, this WR duo will determine how successful the Lions season will be. Not only do they have the prototypical WR build with Golladay standing at 6’4’ and Marvin Jones at 6’2’, but they also locate and high point the football extremely well. I foresee Stafford taking numerous long shots against unproven, inexperienced cornerbacks of the Arizona Cardinals who stand at 5’11’ (Byron Murphy) and 5’10’ (Tramaine Brock). It is not a question that the Lions WRs will have success against a depleted Arizona secondary; however, this is where the theory of “bend but don’t break” comes in. If the Arizona cornerbacks can limit the amount of big plays through the air and keep the tandem of Golladay and Jones in front of them, this could turn the game in favor of the Cardinals. This can be done by having effective safety play over the top. If Budda Baker and Swearinger can shrink or take away the over the top throwing windows for Stafford, then maybe this can force the Lions to play more into the center of the field which is the strength of the Cardinals defense. This could also be beneficial if the safeties can bait Stafford into a couple ill advised, timely turnovers that could swing momentum. In the end, I believe it will come down to keeping Detroit's dynamic WR duo in front of the Arizona secondary.
3. Kliff Kingsbury 1H vs. Matt Patricia 1H
With the Arizona offense being kept under wrap, it has been hard to really know what to even expect come this Sunday for first year head coach Kliff Kingsbury and his prized trophy Kyler Murray. Will the offense be similar to Kingsbury’s offense at Texas Tech or similar to the Kyler Murray led Sooners offense of 2018? There are a lot of questions to be answered on Sunday, and I believe that many of them will be answered in the first half. I look for Kingsbury to use the unknown to his advantage and start fast by scoring points on the first couple of drives. Matt Patricia has had the unfortunate draw of having to face off against Kingsbury the first week of the season when there is no game tape to study. Expect Kingsbury to allow Kyler Murray to be aggressive early and take advantage of a possibly confused Detroit defense. However, on the other side of the coin, if Kingsbury and the Cardinals offense fail to generate anything early on, it could be foreshadowing of another down year for the Cardinals. If Kingsbury can take advantage in the first half when unveiling his new Air Raid offense, look for the Cardinals to get the year started with a nice W.