Well, after much anticipation throughout the offseason and preseason, the Cardinals faithful were able to finally see the official Air Raid offense and new look defense in action. While it may have started out as a dud, the offense eventually came to life in the 4th quarter and allowed the Cardinals to salvage a game that appeared to be heading towards a convincing win for the visiting Detroit Lions. This game may still feel like a loss for some fans after dominating much of the overtime period; however, if you had told me the Cardinals would be down 24-6 to start the 4th quarter and the game would end in a tie, I am not sure I would have believed you. Nevertheless, after taking some time to reflect on the game and allowing the roller coaster of emotions to finally settle down over a good night’s sleep here are my initial 4 reactions to the Cardinals vs. Lions OT thriller.
1. The Old Men Still Have It
If you thought Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs were headed towards an end of career, mediocre year, it would seem you would be incorrect. Larry Fitzgerald not only hauled in 8 receptions for 113 yards for an impressive average of 14.1 YPC, but he proved to be the defibrillator that shocked the Cardinals offense back from the dead. He had 3 HUGE catches one of 43 yards that led to a field goal, one of 41 yards that led to another field goal, and finally the 4 yard final score that allowed the Cardinals to go for 2 and force overtime. He continues to be an ageless wonder and even after seeing everything he has done in his career, he impresses me more and more as I continue to watch him play. Next up, is future HOF, OLB Terrell Suggs who had a great game himself. He finished with 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits, and a forced fumble. This old man was a one man wrecking crew and provided a much needed pass rush for the Cardinals, something that was lacking outside of Chandler Jones last year. Overall, great game for these two veterans, and the Cardinals will need much more of it in order to stay afloat this season.
2. Cardinals ILB Slow in Pass Coverage
I know Haason Reddick is not 100% healthy yet from his surgery and that Joe Walker is not really considered a great starter fill in for a defense lacking star power right now, but this group in pass coverage looked slow and often out of place. T.J. Hockenson burned this position group time and time again over the middle as he racked up 131 yards on the Cardinals defense. In addition, Golladay’s touchdown with the shallow cross over mid field was botched coverage by this unit and happened at an important time early in the game. Overall, this position group had its positives in stopping the run and generating pressure when given the chance in certain situations, but it was concerning that the pass coverage was not better for this unit, especially with the newly signed offseason prize of Jordan Hicks. Again, it’s too early to overreact, but the Cardinals need this group to step up and play better. Hopefully once Haason Reddick is 100%, this group can take it to the next level.
3. Run Defense a Pleasant Surprise
One of the biggest surprises this past Sunday was the Cardinals run defense. The defense stepped up big and was able to hold Kerryon Johnson to under 50 yards rushing with a measly average of 3.1 YPC. Overall, the Lions had 116 yards on the ground throughout the game, but the Cardinals kept the normally strong rushing team under wraps throughout the game, other than a few Stafford scrambles that hurt at times. The Cardinals Defense looked strong in their effort and seemed to get a good push off of the line and penetration through their assigned gaps. Which leads me to my next point, the Cardinals finally played disciplined run defense staying in their assigned gaps while also playing aggressive. This proved to be an important factor in the game, as the Lions were unable to move the ball on the ground and eat up clock while they had the lead. The run defense continued to step up in times of need. In my opinion, this was one of my more encouraging takeaways when you compare with last year’s team. This will be extremely important when facing off versus Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, and co. next week.
4. Cardinals OL Inconsistency
If you were like me on Sunday afternoon you found yourself constantly confused with the Cardinals OL throughout the course of the game. The play was downright baffling sometimes, but then excellent on certain plays which had fans like me wanting more consistency. Moments that stand out in particular to name a few were early on in the first couple of possessions where the running lanes would open up and provide huge holes for David Johnson to run through. This was a nice surprise as last year not only did these holes not exist but they were concave with the opposing defense always in the backfield by the time Johnson had the ball. On the flip side of the coin, you saw plays that will undoubtedly be on segments such as “Not Top 10” and “C’mon Man” such as when guard Sweezy seemed to jump tackle Kyler Murray. I am not sure if he thought he could actually hurdle the short statured Murray or if he was performing a wrestling move. Either way the play was embarrassing. Beyond that there were plays consistent with last year’s OL where players were beat badly almost as if they were blocking ghosts. Shipley and Sweezy were both beat multiple times along with Pugh. In the end, the OL did seem to settle down, as Kyler Murray did, which without a doubt enabled the comeback. They held up well in pass protection for the most part in the 4th quarter, but there will be better pass rushing teams coming to the desert soon and the OL needs to start and end well. Consistency will be a key for this unit, meaning the lesser amount of injuries and games missed for this OL, the better the Cardinals season will go.