ReFo: Lions @ Cardinals, Week 15
The worst team in football. That was the Arizona Cardinals before this Sunday, and rightly so. They’d lost nine on the bounce and were playing in a style that suggested heads would roll come the end of the year.
However, more displays like the one that saw them manhandle the Detroit Lions, and this regime might get some time to right the wrongs of 2012.
In truth they didn’t need to be great to win this one. The Lions were intent on shooting themselves in the foot, with some particularly bad play at the quarterback spot. But that shouldn’t take away from a fine defensive display that showed us all this roster has something to offer.
Let’s take a look at the key performances.
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
There have been times in his career where Matthew Stafford (-6.2) has looked bad — out of his depth even — but has he ever played that badly? A quick look back at our grading of him in his rookie year says so, but at least then he had the ‘novice’ excuse.
Against Arizona there was no such excuse.
You can reason that he faced a great deal of pressure, but in reality it was on just 16-of-52 drop-backs he did so, and while he completed 28.6% of passes with defenders closing, he was only up at 55.6% when he wasn’t pressured. His interceptions highlighted how bad a day he had, with the pick-six to Rashad Johnson being a really lazy piece of decision-making as he gave no thought for the defensive back who was stationary in coverage. When you watch a guy as talented as this play this badly, words can’t do justice to the frustration.
Where’s the Pressure?
Once again the Lions’ defensive ends failed to put the quarterback in uncomfortable situations. You’d think going up against rookies Bobby Massie and Nate Potter would have them licking their lips. It didn’t. Of the four to play, only Willie Young registered any pressure (a solitary hit), as Cliff Avril hurt his negotiating position come the end of the year, and Kyle Vanden Bosch surely moves one step closer to losing his starting job.
Inside it was a different story, with Ndamukong Suh (+1.5) picking up a sack and three hits, even if he had some problems with some of the draw plays the Cardinals were running. A bright spot in an otherwise disappointing unit that missed Nick Fairley.
Calvin Johnson vs. Patrick Peterson
During the week we were told to expect a one-on-one encounter and that’s what we got. Arguably the game’s best receiver going up against one of the young defenders proclaiming themselves the next shutdown cornerback. In short, this was a contest won by Calvin Johnson (+2.4) who overcame some poor throws to catch 10-of-16 balls his way for 121 yards. Eight of these receptions (and 101 of the yards) came with Peterson covering him and as the game wore on the Cardinals tried some rather blunt tactics to slow him down — placing two defensive backs to play press coverage on Johnson. It’s something I would expect to see more of. Clearly flustered by Johnson being taken out of the game at times with a variety of coverages, it almost looked like Stafford had resigned himself to defeat without his get out of jail free card.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Calais Clears a Path
I use to think that Calais Campbell (+5.8) was the kind of guy who would always excel rushing the passer, but be a bit hit-or-miss in the run game. Well, 2012 has more than proved me wrong. The way he got off the blocks of Lions offensive linemen was something to behold — Campbell finished with six defensive stops in the run game and a sack, two hurries, and a batted pass while rushing the quarterback. It’s the kind of performance we’ve seen from him all year, and there’s no denying the Cardinals’ defense gets a huge boost when he is on the field.
As Good as it Gets From Lindley
In recent weeks you kind of tune in to Arizona games expecting a horror show at the QB spot. Well, if that was what you were looking for this week then you would have been disappointed. Ryan Lindley was far from spectacular, and his passing of the ‘eye test’ for the first time was made all the more stark by how bad his opposite number was, but for the first time he gave you something to be encouraged about.
Yes, the interception was bad, but his completion to Michael Floyd on his first throw of the game was about as good a pass as he’s made in the NFL. He followed it up with some solid work, and as importantly kept his mistakes to a minimum. Facing a defense with that many playmakers, that will keep you competitive.
Toler’s Turn to Shine
What to make of the career of Greg Toler (+5.2)? At times he’s looked very good, but then injuries and a loss of faith in him have made him something of an afterthought. This year he’s been limited to just 257 snaps, but he made his 57 in this one count. Six times Matthew Stafford went after him with the end result being — no completions, three pass break-ups, and an interception that Toler returned for a touchdown. Granted, he spent a lot of his day matched up with Kris Durham, but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Toler did that and then some.
– We do like to make mention of the improvements Bobby Massie has made. This week he gave up just the one quarterback hit all game.
– Mike Thomas was on the field to run 12 pass routes, but wasn’t targeted on any of them. His role seems to be based around being the guy the Lions fake an end-around to.
– Ryan Lindley attempted only one pass over 20 yards in the air; the Cardinals’ first offensive play of the game.
It came down to two, and while I could have easily gone for Campbell, this was a career day for Greg Toler.
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