With four games remaining in the 2018 season, the Arizona Cardinals are looking to build towards the future by finishing strong. The Cardinals return home to State Farm Stadium on Sunday and welcome the Detroit Lions. Arizona is riding high from the organization’s first win at Lambeau Field, and the first win on the road against the Packers since 1948. Detroit played the Rams tough at home last week and are looking to get just their win of the season. Can Arizona build on their momentum on Sunday? Today we take a look at three things the Cardinals need to do to be a bad host to the visiting Lions.
Stability on the Offensive Line
Comparing a photo of the offensive line from the season opener against Washington and the line that finished the game in Green Bay, it becomes apparent that the unit has undergone significant changes. The season started with tackles Andre Smith and D.J. Humphries, guards Justin Pugh and Mike Iupati, with rookie Mason Cole playing center. After a season ending injury to Iupati, Cole will be the only one remaining as the Cardinals get ready for Sunday.
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The makeshift unit performed admirably against the Packers, leading the way for more than 150 yards rushing. Green Bay generated significant pressure but the line kept a clean enough pocket and surrendered just two sacks. Against the Lions, expect a continued emphasis on getting the ground game going and allow offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich to utilize an effective play action gameplan. Detroit has the ability to generate a substantial pass rush, and quarterback Josh Rosen will need time to let his receivers make their way down field against a talented, though underachieving Lions secondary. Arizona found some momentum in Green Bay along the offensive line and it will be important to keep that going come Sunday.
Receivers Need to Step Up
Rookie wide receiver, Christian Kirk, continued his solid season with a pair of big plays. Kirk had both a run and a catch of over 30 yards, while showing some moves in the return game. However, the rookie suffered an injury late in the game and is out for the rest of the season. The ageless wonder that is Larry Fitzgerald contributed with a huge 32 yard, diving reception which kept a fourth quarter drive alive and allowed for the game winning field goal. Kirk and Fitzgerald are one and two in receptions for the Cardinals in 2018. With the injury to Kirk, the Cardinals will need someone to help carry the load.
The wide receiver position has been a bit of a disappointment this season. The Cardinals signed Brice Butler during but decided to release the receiver before the season began. Arizona entered 2018 with Kirk, Fitzgerald, Trent Sherfield, Chad Williams, and J.J. Nelson. Williams missed the last four games with an ankle injury but head coach Steve Wilks expects the second-year pro to be available. Rosen will need to throw the football on occasion. Outside of Fitzgerald, Williams leads the remaining three with 11 receptions this season. Sherfield has three catches and Nelson adds four. Arizona has options on the practice squad but someone in the current group will need to step up. Expecting Fitzgerald to save the day may be asking a bit too much from the future Hall of Fame receiver.
Force Detroit to Throw the Ball
Matthew Stafford is one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL. Unfortunately he is not at the same level in terms of production. In 2018, Stafford has thrown for 3086 yards with a 66.5% completion rate and 18 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. When the offense is on schedule (<2nd&5 or <3rd&5), Stafford is at his most dangerous. Detroit lacks a true receiving option opposite of wide receiver Kenny Golladay but relies heavily on running back Theo Riddick. Golladay leads the team with 55 receptions with Riddick behind him adding 51. No other active Detroit player has more than 32 catches.
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Arizona’s defense will need to force the Lions into obvious passing situations by winning first and second down. Detroit will attempt to establish a running game with LeGarrette Blount. Blount is the primary option with Kerryon Johnson battling an injury. Detroit averages about 100 yards a game, helped by a 248 yard game in Miami and a 159 yard game against the Patriots. Removing the two outliers, Detroit is averaging just 81 yards a game. If the Cardinals can force Detroit into obvious passing situations, Arizona’s pass rush will have the opportunity to take over. Detroit is surrending three sacks a game this season for a total of 36 overall. Since November, the Lions have surrendered 23 sacks, including 10 against the Vikings. The Cardinals pass rush have a chance to feast on Sunday.
How it Happens
Both teams feature defensive minded head coaches who have struggled to find wins this season. Combined, the teams have a 7-17 record this season, with low expectations it will get better in 2018. Arizona played their best game against the Packers and bring the momentum. Losing Kirk for the season puts the weight of the passing game on the shoulders of the veteran Fitzgerald. Someone will need to step up or the Cardinals offense will struggle. Detroit will be keying on the run game and expect cornerback Darius Slay to key on Fitzgerald. Arizona’s defense should have a field day getting pressure, but the back end will need to take advantage of Stafford’s mistakes. The defense may be enough to carry Arizona to another victory.
Prediction: Cardinals over Lions 27-21
In the end the Cardinals offense maintains their momentum and uses a balance attack to take an early lead. Defensively the Cardinals wreck havoc on Stafford and tally five sacks on the day. Detroit gets a pair of late scores but it’s too little too late. Arizona celebrates back to back victory for the first time all season.