It obviously takes a full team effort to win on Sundays, but there are undoubtedly weeks in which a specific player has a more important role or matchup that week. So to kick off what will be a weekly article, we’re going to run down the five most important Detroit Lions this week as they face off against the Arizona Cardinals.
This serves as a list of players that either have a critical matchup against one of the opponent’s best players, or just the opposite: a player who holds the key to a big mismatch the Lions could exploit.
So without further ado, here five players key to a Lions victory on Sunday.
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
With Jarrad Davis almost certainly out this week, many are keeping a close eye on second-round pick Jahlani Tavai. But I think Reeves-Maybin will be the bigger key on Sunday. Even if Davis wasn’t out, Reeves-Maybin’s speed, coverage and athleticism would likely be valuable to this team this week. With the Air Raid offense expected to be fast-paced and reliant upon shifty athletes, Reeves-Maybin is exactly the kind of defender the Lions needs to go sideline to sideline.
LT Taylor Decker
The Lions have a pretty good matchup when they take the field on offense, but pressure on Matthew Stafford could ruin all of that. With Chandler Jones expected to line up on Stafford’s blind side, Decker will need to continue his good showing in the preseason with a good day of protection against Jones.
Jones has four straight seasons with at least 11 sacks, so Decker will have his work cut out for him. However, last year, the Lions left tackle kept Jones off the scoresheet.
C Frank Ragnow
The Lions want to establish the run, and the Cardinals are a team that shouldn’t provide much resistance there. They were one of the worst teams in the NFL at stopping the run last year, and based on the preseason, not much has changed this year.
Ragnow is dealing with an ankle injury, so he may not be 100 percent. But there is plenty of optimism that his move back to center will get the most out of Detroit’s 2018 first-round pick.
EDGE Devon Kennard
While Trey Flowers’ Lions debut is admittedly very exciting, linebacker Devon Kennard could have the biggest opportunity along the defensive front to make a splash against the Cardinals. Kennard typically plays off the offense’s right edge, and Arizona will be missing their starting right tackle. It’s unclear who their backup will be on Sunday, but their choices aren’t exactly appealing: Either an undrafted rookie that was claimed off waivers last weekend (Brett Toth) or seventh-round rookie Joshua Miles. Kennard should EAT.
CB Justin Coleman
It wasn’t a pretty training camp for the Lions’ nickel corner, but he has a big chance to start the regular season off right against the Cardinals. Arizona boasts a handful of options in the slot, including veteran Larry Fitzgerald, second-year Christian Kirk and second-round rookie Andy Isabella. The pressure is on.
It’s unclear how the Lions play to counter that, but Coleman figures to play a big part, especially with starting outside cornerback Rashaan Melvin questionable.