Arizona Cardinals vs. Detroit Lions: Preview and Prediction
The wait is finally over, and the Arizona Cardinals will start the regular season tomorrow. Arizona will face the Lions for the eighth time after seven consecutive wins dating back to 2006 when the Cardinals met them for the first time at University of Phoenix Stadium.
So this year let’s go one week at a time. We will take a deeper look at each game and what matchups you should watch.
Cardinals Offensive Breakdown
It is no secret that this season will revolve around the success of Carson Palmer. Winning will starts up front with the offensive line. The Cardinals have made some significant changes to the line this year, and nobody knows what to expect fully. DJ Humphries has become the starting left tackle which has forced Jarrod Velhdeer to the right side. Humphries is a natural left tackle from his college days and has the chops to be very good. But we only got to see him in one preseason game, and he did well, but not great. Now that the real games have started Humphries success will be critical to this offense.
That is why I am so excited to have the Lions up first this year. Of all the teams we face this season, the Lions and Colts may have two weakest pass rushes on our schedule. This should give time to for Humphries to learn and grow on the fly and hopefully build some confidence.
The Lions best pass rusher has just been removed from the physically unable to perform list and has been limited all week at practice. Glover Quin is a good free safety and has played well against Arizona in the past, but he does not have much help. Including Quin, there is nobody on this Lions defense that can match up with David Johnson.
I expect the Cardinals to score at least 27 points on this shallow defensive squad.
Cardinals Defensive Breakdown
Arizona’s defense will not be at full strength with Deone Buchannon out for the season opener. This is going to put rookie Hassan Reddick into the starting lineup against two of the best receiving running backs in the NFC. Theo Reddick and Ameer Abdulla are two very talented backs. Every remembers that the Cardinals almost took Abdulla ahead of David Johnson in the draft.
Physically, the rookie linebacker can match-up with either of these two backs, but he has to have great eye discipline and not get pulled out of position with fakes.
Golden Tate is a beast of a receiver and is great running after the catch. The Cardinals put a huge emphasis on tackling this offseason, so we will see if it pays off. Tate does a lot of work from the slot which will make his battle with Tyrann Mathieu very enjoyable. I am expecting the Cardinals to play a lot of zone against the Lions. New offensive coordinator Jim-Bob Cooter has changed the Lions attack to a west coast style. The short drops by Mathew Stafford and quick routes are tough to defend in man coverage. Also, the Lions don’t have a real outside threat for Patrick Peterson to shadow in this match.
I like Stafford, and I expect a great game plan from the Lions, so the defense may need time to adjust. I think that Arizona has the more talented team and will make the big play on defense when it is needed. The Lions should be able to put up at least 20 points tomorrow.
Special Teams Breakdown
Arizona has had a major overhaul and in my opinion, upgrade on special teams. Phil Dawson is a very accurate and confident kicker. He may not have the leg strength that Catanzaro had, but he is much more dependable. Andy Lee is aging and coming off of an injury, but he is a former all-pro punter and has exceptional talent with directional kicks. Lee has held for Dawson in San Francisco, so there should be no issue with the mechanics on kicks like we had last year.
On Coverage, Justin Bethel is back to full strength after playing with a torn ligament in his foot last season. Britton Golden is on the roster as well as Scooby Wright III for special teams coverages. These three guys are exceptional at covering kicks and punts and should give the Cardinals a field position edge tomorrow.
The Cardinals win 27-20, and we see how well the defensive and the offensive line can mesh. They are the key tomorrow as they are in most games, but getting off to a good start is critical.
Let me know what you think on The Long Ball’s Facebook page or Twitter @lennyletcher.
Finally, I will be doing some commentary during the game on Snap Chat @lennyletcher there as well if you have questions live.
The Arizona Cardinals have been disappointing to start the 2016 season. At 1-2 they are at the bottom of the division and need to string together some wins. They have a great opportunity to make up ground in the division this week against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams are in first place in the division, despite getting blown out by the San Francisco 49ers in week one.
Arizona Cardinals Week Four Keys to Victory
Protecting Carson Palmer
The Cardinals will need to be better on offense than they were last week against the Buffalo Bills. Carson Palmer threw four interceptions and was unable to get into the end zone all game. This week they are facing a very good defensive front seven with the potential to wreak havoc.
When Palmer is able to set his feet and see downfield he is a top tier quarterback. When he is pressured and forced to move around his effectiveness diminishes quickly. Having Evan Mathis return to his right guard position will help tremendously. He missed last week with a turf toe injury and his replacement Earl Watford played poorly in reserve.
Stopping the Run
The Cardinals let the Bills run all over them last week. Todd Gurley is one of the best running backs in the NFL and the Rams offensive line plays physically. Bruce Arians philosophy of stopping the run early and forcing teams to beat them through the air will be put to the test. Last year against the Cardinals, Gurley had his first breakout performance of his career. He ran for 146 yards and the Rams beat the Cardinals 24-22 in that game. The Cardinals can not afford to let Gurley get going in this week.
Eliminate the Miscues on Special Teams
Bad special teams play is a key factor to the Cardinals slow start. Earlier this week they released rookie long snapper Kameron Canaday and signed NFL veteren snapper Aaron Brewer who played four seasons with the Denver Broncos. You can read about Canaday’s mistakes here. The Cardinals also signed punter Ryan Quigley to replace injured Drew Butler. Arians said that Butler would stay active to hold on kicks, but that plan has changed. Drew Butler was seen in a walking boot and will not be able to play this week. This is another scary change to special teams unit that had been consistent in previous years. The Cardinals are hopeful that they have worked out any of the special teams issues that plagued them so far this season.
Tight end Troy Niklas and Alani Fua were put on injured reserve and rookie safety Marqui Christian was released (He was picked up on waivers by the Rams). To replace them the Cardinals signed linebacker Joplo Bartu and elevated Ifeany Momah from the practice squad.
Less than 24 hours until game time and I am nervous. Going through my previous predictions I had the Arizona Cardinals starting out fast. I wrote about a worst case scenario that had us at 7-4 through 12 weeks of the season. In that worst case scenario I never thought that losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was possibility. When asked this week, I gave the Bucs a 40% chance of winning. At this time of the year, you never know.
Bring on the Buccaneers
I have watched every throw that Jameis Winston made last week three times. Winston was not sacked last week and that will need to change. At a minimum, the Cardinals will need to get consistent pressure to disrupt their timing. Winston did a decent job of checking down to his backs and tight ends when he was in trouble. This will challenge the tackling of the Cardinals that struggled last week.
The Cardinals Offense
The offense was out of sync last week and I expect a lot of that to be corrected. John Brown said that he did not feel like himself last week and you could tell. The Cardinals offense is so much more dynamic when Brown is stretching the field leaving throwing lanes open to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Our short yardage running game looked very good last week. We will need our passing game to keep the offense on schedule to allow those short yardage runs to help convert on third downs.
This is a really good game that will feature two very good offenses. I think the difference in this game is the defenses. The Cardinals offense looked very good at times against an exceptionally coached New England Patriots team. The Bucaneerss are not as formidable as the Patriots and the Cardinals should be able to take advantage. The Cardinals defense that struggled against the precise route running of New England last week, won’t be as stressed against the 50/50 type routes the Buccaneers run.
What I really want to see happen is our team get their swag back. With the exception of Fitz, It didn’t look line anyone was having fun. This team is built with big time personalities and some real super stars. To be the best version of the Cardinals they need to play like it.
There are no moral victories. This was a bad loss and the Arizona Cardinals need to improve in all three phases of the game. The only bright spot of the game is that Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson are fantastic football players.
Tonight, our defense did not live up to the hype. Allowing the New England Patriots to convert on 10-16 third down tries. There was far less blitzing and unique formations from the team than we have seen in previous years. The Cardinals allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to beat them.
Full Season Prediction Review
Lets take a look at game one the full season review that I put together and see how close I was to being right. Here is what I predicted about this game:
Cardinals 23- Patriots 20
The offense has not looked like itself without John Brown stretching the field. He is going to be out of shape and out of sync when he does come back.
The Patriots D is tough even with the loss of Rob Ninkovich and will hold us to only two touchdowns. One on the ground and one through the air. But they will get an easy score themselves off of a bad Palmer turnover.
The three Catanzaro field goals will be the difference even if he does miss one of his tries.
How did I do?
Lets start with the obvious. The overall prediction of the Cardinals winning was wrong. I knew this game would be close. The Patriots are very well coached and always prepared. John Brown was held to one catch on the night and did not create the separation we are used to seeing. The Patriots defense allowed three scores, but forced five punts. Carson Palmer kept his stat sheet clean and did not throw a pic, but his audible to throw on second down with under two minutes to go was bad. Chandler Catanzaro hit three kicks, but they were just extra points. Then he certainly did miss the one kick that would have made a difference.
Please don’t take this as me gloating, because the Cardinals lost. I was wrong about that and that is the only part of the prediction that matters in the NFL.
It would be wrong of me not to say congratulations to Larry for his 100th touchdown. It was a fantastic way to reach that milestone.
Sunday Night Football and NBC have to be pretty upset right now. They have been licking their chops at this first Sunday night game since the schedule was announced. Poised to be a huge game, they had two teams with very high expectations pitted against each other. With multiple starters missing for the Patriots offense, it is not looking to stack up as competitively as it did before the injuries and suspensions.
Regardless of the competitiveness of the game here are some things to watch on Sunday night.
Knowing Peterson is on one side and Tyrann Mathieu is in the slot, Garoppolo would be wise to choose a rookie to throw at. Williams will be challenged all day and he will give up some catches. It is important that he make the most of any opportunity to get his hands on the ball.
2.What does Honeybadger 3.0 look like?
Tryann Mathieu has been one of the most valuable players on the Cardinals roster despite being sidelined with injuries his first three seasons. Will he be able to make the plays we expect of him or will he show some rust like he did coming of his first ACL injury?
3. Can Carson Palmer get it going?
After a poor preseason showing, Carson Palmer has to start his season like he did last year. Converting on third down, in the red zone and protecting the ball. The Patriots D is almost at full strength and is going to give us a good look at how Carson is going to play this year.
Let’s hope for the Cards to take advantage of the opportunity and take another step toward their much larger goals.