The Detroit Lions open the season at home by hosting the Arizona Cardinals (2016 8-8). Detroit is fresh off a playoff appearance from the 2016 season but wilted down the stretch due to injuries. Let’s see if Bob Quinn’s second year as Lions GM can accomplish more than just a playoff appearance. The first task is a tough Arizona Cardinals team coming off a disappointing season.
Lions Passing Attack
Detroit has a very good QB in Matt Stafford who has healed from his finger injury. Stafford had over a 100 QB rating prior to the injury and has been flat out elite under Jim Bob Cooter as OC with a 99 rating in 27 games.
We will see if Stafford can get back to form after becoming the highest paid player in the league. Stafford must continue to make good, quick decisions and use his rocket arm to lead the Lions down the field. Mistakes will be costly as the Cardinals secondary can make you pay.
Stafford continues to have plenty of weapons at his disposal. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate is a very good duo and rookie Kenny Golladay adds some size and jump ball ability. Theo Riddick returns from an injury after missing 6 games plus the playoff game in 2016. Riddick is a big time threat as a receiving running back and should give the Cardinals LBs fits.
Inside linebacker Deonne Buchannon (ankle) is questionable to play which would really help Detroit underneath. Karlos Dansby is a veteran and rookie 1st round pick Hasaan Reddick or former Lion Josh Bynes could play some ILB in Buchannon’s absence. Reddick is talented but Riddick will be a tough matchup for Reddick in his first game.
Arizona has a very good secondary led by Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both of these guys are shut down corners and can force interceptions. Mathieu plays both safety and the slot nickel spot which will test Golden Tate when he moves to the slot. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate will be thoroughly tested against these two stud corners.
Second corner Justin Bethel is a new starter and will be picked on by the Lions. Veteran Antoine Bethea, Tyvon Branch and rookie 2nd round pick Budda Barker make up a good safety group for Arizona. Eric Ebron missed all of training camp and will have to knock off the rust quickly to win his matchups against this group.
Stafford will need to work the quick throws and allow Tate, Ebron and Abdullah/Riddick to get YAC. Detroit must establish a run game to open up the passing game for deeper attempts. The Lions need to hit on the few deep attempts they make and avoid interceptions. The Cardinals allowed 22.6 PPG for 14th in 2016. They can be beat for points but still have a lot of talent with plenty of health in Week 1.
Lions Protection against Cardinals Pass Rush
Detroit has a strong right side of the offensive line but a weaker left side due to the injury of Taylor Decker (PUP/shoulder). Greg Robinson will be facing Chandler Jones. Jones is a very good pass rusher and abused Robinson last year when Robinson played for the Rams. If Jones feasts again, it will hurt the Lions passing game.
Markus Golden and rookie Hassan Reddick should provide pass rush as well. Detroit’s right side and interior needs to play well and keep Stafford clean on one side at least. Frostee Rucker and Josh Mauro don’t provide much pass rush at 3-4 DE but 2nd year player Robert Nkemdiche has a quick first step to wreak havoc but is dealing with a calf injury. TJ Lang can handle the job but Graham Glasgow has been struggling at left guard. Glasgow must stop up to keep the interior of the pocket open for Stafford.
Lions Rushing Attack
Ameer Abdullah is back and gives a big boost to the Lions run game. He was electric in two games prior to injury last year and solid with 4.2 YPC in his rookie year. Abdullah can run between the tackles, get outside and make tacklers miss. Zach Zenner should receive some carries as the power back.
The bad news for Detroit is Arizona only allowed 3.6 YPC which was 3rd best in the league. Arizona did lose DE Calais Campbell and ILB Kevin Minter since then but the Cardinals still have plenty of run stoppers.
If Detroit can at least be decent running the ball, it should open up their passing attack.
Cardinals Passing Attack
Arizona was 6th in scoring 26.1 PPG in 2016. Larry Fitzgerald defies his age (1,023 yards and 6 TDs) and is still a good number 1 WR for QB Carson Palmer. Palmer had an 87.1 QB with 26 TDS and 14 interceptions during the 2016 season. If Detroit forces two turnovers from the Cardinals, it will help them tremendously in this game.
JJ Nelson (568 yards and 6 TDs at 16.5 YPC) is a deep threat and John Brown is a good number 2 WR despite a down year due to injury in 2016 (517 yards and 2 TDs). David Johnson had over 800 yards receiving as a running back which makes him a really good duel threat. Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas don’t offer much at tight end for receiving but are capable for decent games. Detroit had trouble with tight ends in 2016 but they greatly upgraded their LB group led by rookie 1st round pick Jarrad Davis and moving Tahir Whitehead to weak side linebacker.
Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson is a good CB combo but Fitzgerald and Brown is a tough matchup. If Slay can shut down Fitzgerald, then the Cardinals offense could be limited. Detroit didn’t allow many big passing plays last season but a bomb to JJ Nelson or John Brown could be a major problem. Quandre Diggs must play like he did in 2015 and not 2016 if the Lions want success at the nickel spot.
This is the million dollar question for Detroit in 2017. Can they generate a pass rush for 2017? Detroit does have an Ansah. Ziggy Ansah returns which is a huge boost for Detroit. However, Ansah is still limited in practice with a new knee injury. The Lions need double digit sacks and consistent pressure from Ansah again.
A’Shawn Robinson looks good at DT in year 2 and Haloti Ngata still has his bull rush. New starter Cornelius Washington must use his athleticism to perform better than Devin Taylor did in 2016 and match Kerry Hyder’s 8 sack season. Armonty Bryant is suspended the first four games and Kerry Hyder (8 sacks) tore his Achilles; so Anthony Zettel must step up in the rotation. Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Valoaga and Alex Barrett played well in pre-season and must step up during the regular season early as the 4th DE combination.
Ansah should win his matchup with first round pick DJ Humphries. Right tackle Jared Veldheer has the advantage over Washington/Zettel and the rookies. The Cardinals interior has some pass protection issues with Mike Iupati, AQ Shipley and Evan Boehm/newly acquired Alex Boone. If Robinson and Ngata can get push, Palmer’s lack of mobility will be a problem. If the DTs don’t get push, Palmer should have time to find his plethora of speedy weapons.
Cardinals Rushing Attack
David Johnson can do it all. Johnson had 1,239 yards and 16 rushing TDS in 2016 on top of 800 receiving yards. He is a beast that runs the ball well. Detroit was average in run defense but added new linebackers and moved Whitehead. Robinson and Ngata will be the key again to be stout against the run between the tackles. If Johnson has a big day, the Cardinals offense has a big day.
Turnovers and Field Position
Detroit only forced 14 on the year in 2016and it hurt them for a lack of short fields (worst in league with 6). The Lions must force at least two Cardinals turnovers. Arizona was 4th in the league forcing 28 turnovers last year. Detroit must avoid interceptions and fumbles so life isn’t easy for Carson Palmer with short fields.
The Lions punter, Sam Martin, is hurt so field position might not be a battle they win with the kicking game.
This is a tough game to call in Week 1. The Lions are good at Ford Field with a 17-7 record under Caldwell. It is the home opener and the Detroit crowd should be raucous. Detroit must win these tough homes games and set the tone for the season.
Detroit is healthy again on offense and defense other than the Taylor Decker and Kerry Hyder injuries. Detroit shows off their offense with weapons/Abdullah back and uses quick throws to beat the Cardinals and stymie their pass rush. The Lions defense force two turnovers and win the game 27-24 on a late Matt Prater field goal, despite a good day from David Johnson.