For the better part of the last decade, the Arizona Cardinals have been able to point to the defense as a calling card. However, over the last few seasons, the unit has looked like a cheap imitation. After a disastrous 2018, the Cardinals rebuilt their once stout defense. Sunday presents the first test against an explosive Lions offense. We take a look at three things that need to happen to ensure an Arizona victory.
Attack the Line
In 2018, the Arizona defense surrendered 2,479 yeards on the ground, or last in the NFL. The 31st ranked Dolphins defense, surrendered 150 yards less. Arizona drafted defensive end Zach Allen to help beef up the line. However, they also lost ends Robert Nkemdiche and Darius Philon, both a result of legal troubles. During the preseason, the defensive line looked overmatched.
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Detroit believes they have found a running back in Kerryon Johnson. The Lions are looking to establish a reliable ground game. This should open things up for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Arizona needs to keep the Lions one-dimensional. Stuffing the run starts with the defensive line. The linebackers aren’t able to flow and make plays if the line struggles to hold the line of scrimmage. Arizona’s effectiveness against the run will determine how well the Detroit offense will perform.
A Good Corner, Man
Patrick Peterson is serving a six-game suspension. Free-agent signing, Robert Alford, is on the Injured Reserve list. Tramaine Brock Sr. and Byron Murphy are the starting cornerbacks. Murphy is a second-round selection from April’s draft. He has the potential to be a very good cornerback in the NFL but will need time to adjust. Brock is the veteran. He played in Denver last season and is familiar with Arizona defensive coordinator, Vance Joseph. There isn’t much behind either player in terms of consistent play.
Matthew Stafford is a very good passer. He has weapons in Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola. Arizona is putting a lot of pressure on their cornerbacks. If the Cardinals are unable to generate consistent pressure, Joseph could be asking too much from his group. Expect to see a generous use of zone coverages in an attempt to limit big plays downfield. The Cardinals need one of their cornerbacks to step up and take control. If not, it could get ugly, quickly.
Burglarize the Offense
The Cardinals averaged one takeaway a game. Factoring out the five takeaway performance against the 49ers, Arizona’s defense forced a measly 11 turnovers in 15 games. That is a rate of 0.73 turnovers per game. A lack of turnovers typically leads to sustained drives by the opposing offenses. Similar to an offense, the defense feeds off big plays. Arizona’s first victory in 2018 was against the aforementioned 49ers. The victory doesn’t happen if not for the takeaways by the Cardinals.
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Winning the turnover battle is something every team preaches. In what could be a high-scoring affair, the team with the most opportunities will likely determine the victor. The defense will need to put their new offense in the best possible position. Opportunities for turnovers will present themselves. Arizona will need to take advantage.
The Lions are the best chance for an Arizona victory over the first four games of the season. After Detroit, the Cardinals travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens, followed by home games against the Panthers and Seahawks. The matchup against the Lions provides Arizona a chance to unveil their new offense and revamped defense. Both sides of the ball prefer to attack quickly. It will be interesting to see if the Arizona defense is up to the task.
Final Prediction: The excitement of the home crowd is enough to get the Cardinals going early. It will be a dogfight but Arizona should win this one. Cardinals win, 27-20