3FTO: Lions @ Cardinals, Week 2
The Lions arrive in the desert coming off an impressive performance against the Vikings on both sides of the ball where they were able to overcome the discipline issues that have been a staple of Coach Jim Schwartz’s tenure. Led by a very solid outing from Matthew Stafford (28 of 42, 357 yards, 2 touchdowns), as well as Reggie Bush’s Motor City debut (90 yards rushing, 101 yards receiving), the Lions’ offense was able to both run and pass with equal effectiveness against the Minnesota defense. Even more impressive was the Lions’ ability to hold all-world running back Adrian Peterson to just 15 yards rushing after giving up a 78 yard touchdown run on his first carry of the game.
Arizona, meanwhile, lost on a last-minute field goal in St. Louis after leading by 11 in the fourth quarter. There were, however, plenty of positives to build on, especially on offense, as the Cardinals’ passing game showed real signs of life for the first time in years. Carson Palmer was our highest rated passer of Week 1 (+5.7), with all three Arizona receivers making significant contributions. Last season the Cardinals’ defense was the strongpoint of the team and so often kept them in games while the offense floundered. Although it’s just one game, the defense looks like it’s taken a step backward, as an ineffective pass rush (zero sacks), allowed the Rams to do just enough on offense to pull out the win.
Calvin Johnson vs. Patrick Peterson
While Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has already established himself as the game’s best, the Cardinals are hoping cornerback Patrick Peterson can develop into a true shutdown corner in his third year, and this will be his toughest challenge all season. Although both are coming off relatively quiet performances in Week 1, this figures to be an exciting matchup to watch, as Peterson typically shadows the opponent’s best receiver all game long. Peterson was targeted only twice in St. Louis, while Megatron was the clear focus of the Vikings defense, coming down with just four receptions on eight targets, for a modest 37 yards.
The two recently met in Week 15 of last year, with Johnson pulling in 7 catches on 11 targets for 87 yards against Peterson in a 28 point Arizona victory. Stafford, who had his worst performance of 2012 by far in that game (-7.2), managed just a 43.4 quarterback rating when targeting Peterson, even with Johnson as his primary responsibility. Coach Bruce Arians has said he won’t always leave Peterson on an island with Johnson, but any additional help will come at the expense of defending Stafford’s other favorite targets, like WR Nate Burleson (six catches on six targets) and Bush.
Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein and Paul Fanaika vs. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh
While all the postgame focus was on Cardinals’ left tackle Levi Brown and his inability to contain defensive end Robert Quinn, the interior of the Arizona offensive line faired only slightly better. Left guard Daryn Colledge (-1.8), center Lyle Sendlein (-0.7) and right guard Paul Fanaika (-2.8) all struggled against the Rams, and they face a much stiffer test up the middle from Lions’ defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Suh had a dominant performance in Week 1, managing seven quarterback hurries and one QB hit on just 32 rushes, while posting a Pass Rushing Productivity of 20.0, tops among all DTs. Fairley (+0.7) complemented Suh’s performance quite nicely with two sacks, one hurry and three stops, often aided by the extra attention drawn by Suh.
Colledge had been moved over to the left side late in the preseason after first-round pick Jonathan Cooper broke his leg, forcing Fanaika into the starting role on the right side. Fanaika, a former seventh-round pick, didn’t even play football in 2012, so going up against the likes of Suh and Fairley in his second start may bring a sudden, and harsh, dose of reality for the Cardinals. Sendlein is the longest tenured of the group and had a relatively solid performance in pass protection against the Rams, allowing just one hurry on Palmer. When you break down the Cardinals’ rushing by direction however, the trio combined for a -5.4 grade in run blocking against the Rams.
Reggie Bush and Joique Bell vs. Cardinals Linebackers and Secondary
Detroit signed halfback Reggie Bush this offseason as a replacement for injury-prone Jahvid Best, and to help draw attention away from Johnson. The Lions hoped he could function as a true dual-threat as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield, and he did not disappoint in their opener against Minnesota (see Sam Monson’s excellent analysis of Bush’s performance). Aside for his 191 yards from scrimmage, he managed an impressive 4.39 Yards Per Route Run (although this was thanks mainly to one huge pass play, when he turned a short dump-off in a 77-yard touchdown). Backup Joique Bell led all running backs in Week 1 with a 6.70 YPPR, and added a pair of touchdowns for good measure, demonstrating that Detroit may actually have two backs with big-play potential.
Bush’s career has always been defined by being able to make plays in space, and this was a major area of concern for the Cardinals last week against the Rams. Arizona had 10 missed tackles, and the Detroit running backs will present a stiffer challenge than anything they saw in St. Louis. Inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley both played well against the run (+2.9 and +2.4 respectively) in the opener, but struggled in coverage against the Rams’ backs and tight ends. TE Jared Cook had a career day receiving (QB Sam Bradford had a near-perfect 152.1 rating throwing to him), and the Rams as a whole had 184 yards after the catch. ILB Daryl Washington’s absence was very noticeable in Week 1, and it will be interesting to see if his suspension creates a significant void in the middle of the Arizona defense.
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