Well, it’s that time everyone. The regular season is finally here!
The Detroit Lions open the 2017 season against the Arizona Cardinals, a team that hasn’t been too kind to the Lions as of late. In their last three meetings the Cardinals have come out on top. The last time the Cardinals came to Ford Field it ended with Matthew Stafford getting benched and a blowout victory for Arizona.
The good news for the Lions is that they’ve actually played pretty well after that monstrous defeat. Since the week 5 loss in 2015 the Lions have posted a 16-11 record (.593) and Matthew Stafford has played at an MVP level.
The Cardinals come to town with the maybe more questions than answers at this point. Will Carson Palmer regain 2015 form or will he continue his 2016 downslide? How does the defense line perform without star defensive tackle Calais Campbell? Can anyone not named David Johnson consistently threaten opposing defenses?
We won’t know the answer to these questions until the teams take the field on Sunday, but until then, here are 10 things I think I know heading into Week 1 against the Cardinals.
1. I think David Johnson is the key to everything the Cardinals do on offense. Johnson is the only player on offense that can truly wreck a game. He’s has already stated he wants to get 1,000 rushing and receiving yards this season. And it’s going to be a tough task for the Lions to try and stop one of the NFL’s best running backs. Teryl Austin has consistently preached his main goal on defense is to stop the run and his unit is going to get a tough test right out of the gate.
2. I think Ezekiel Ansah is going to have himself a really nice game (and he’s going to need to). Ansah hasn’t played a snap of football in 2017, but that won’t stop him from disrupting Carson Palmer.
Bruce Arians’ system put a lot of pressure on the offensive line. Last year the Cardinals averaged just under 8 QB hits allowed a game. The Lions don’t blitz often, but look out for Austin to be creative and blitz from the secondary as well as use stunts to get Ansah clear rushing lanes.
3. I think the Cardinals defense is extremely underrated. They’re overall record and unraveling offense has taken some of the shine off of a very talented team, particularly on defense. Arizona has a pair of dynamic pass rushers in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Rookie linebacker Haason Reddick was coveted by many Lions fans heading into the draft, and the secondary is manned by the best cornerback in the league in Patrick Peterson.
The Cardinals defense ranked third in yards allowed per pass attempt, third in yards allowed per rush attempt, and led the league in sacks (48) in 2016. They aren’t as flashy as the Seahawks or Broncos, but they are every bit as scary.
4. I think Jarrad Davis is going to need to play well, quickly. The rookie middle linebacker is learning a lot from playing and watching his preseason game film. The key for him will be trusting is instincts and not overthinking things.
5. I think Bruce Arians will call at least four deep shots throughout the game. Arians is known for being an aggressive play-caller, and he will definitely want to test the Lions defense early. This is by far my favorite quote from Arians, delivered at his introductory press conference with the Cardinals:
"We have six home runs on the play sheet every week, and we're not leaving any bullets unused."
6. I think Larry Fitzgerald is still a tremendous player and a dangerous threat in the slot. Last season Fitzgerald ran over 60 percent of his routes out of the slot. That will serve as a big test for Quandre Diggs, who finished last season allowing opposing quarterbacks a 124.4 passer rating and a catch rate of 91.3 percent against him.
7. I think the Lions should attack Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel on Sunday. Bethel has been an up and down player throughout his career, but after taking an offseason paycut to stay with the Cardinals, he won the starting job opposite Patrick Peterson. If I’m the Lions, I steer clear of Peterson and try to attack the other weak spots in the defense.
8. I think Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are going to play key roles in the pass game. Remember back to 2016 season opener for a moment. Before the Lions defense forgot how to cover tight ends, both Abdullah and Riddick were featured parts of the gameplan. They both ended the game with five receptions, over 50 receiving yards, and a receiving touchdown. The Lions would be smart to implement a similar plan against the Cardinals.
9. I think Matthew Stafford is worth every penny of his new contract. I’ve written previously that I wouldn’t have baulked at paying Stafford $30 million a year. So $27 million a year really didn’t even raise my eyebrows. That contract will look great for the Lions in a year or two after newer contracts start to roll in.
10. I think Ford Field needs to be loud on Sunday. The Ford family put nearly $100 million into renovating the Lions’ home stadium. That’s well and good, but if opposing teams don’t fear playing there, then it may all be for not. The fans need to create an atmosphere that makes it difficult for other teams to come into Detroit and win. I’d love to see Ford Field become one of the true home field advantages in the NFL this season.