On Monday Night Football, the Arizona Cardinals were humbled by the Los Angeles Rams. Matthew Stafford came out swinging, and the Cardinals didn’t seem to know what hit them until it was too late to come back.
It was a crushing blow to the Cardinals in the race for the NFC West title. A win would have essentially clinched the division for them, but with a loss, they are now grasping onto a one-game lead with four weeks to go.
But despite Monday’s loss, the Cardinals are a team to be reckoned with. They’re relatively healthy, they’ve been one of the few teams in the NFL that has shown week-to-week consistency, and most relevant to this week’s game against the Detroit Lions, they don’t play with their food. When they’re better than a team, they make it known swiftly and rarely play down to the opponent.
Do the Lions stand a chance against arguably the best team they’ve faced all season? Let’s take a closer look at the Lions’ Week 15 opponent.
2021 season thus far (10-3)
Week 1: Beat Titans, 38-13
Week 2: Beat Vikings, 34-33
Week 3: Beat Jaguars, 31-19
Week 4: Beat Rams, 37-20
Week 5: Beat 49ers, 17-10
Week 6: Beat Browns, 37-14
Week 7: Beat Texans, 31-5
Week 8: Lost to Packers, 21-14
Week 9: Beat 49ers, 31-17
Week 10: Lost to Panthers, 10-34
Week 11: Beat Seahawks, 23-13
Week 12: Bye
Week 13: Beat Bears, 33-22
Week 14: Lost to Rams, 23-30
- 4th in points scored (28.2 PPG), 4th in points against (19.5 PPG)
- 6th overall in DVOA (16th on offense, 4th on defense, 10th on special teams)
- Offensive DVOA: 5th in pass offense, 26th in run offense
- Defensive DVOA: 4th in pass defense, 12th in run defense
The first thing that jumps out about the Arizona Cardinals is how they’ve essentially avoided any letdown games this season. The closest to qualifying is their Week 10 loss to the Panthers, but there was a lot going on in that game, including the return of Cam Newton to the Panthers and Colt McCoy starting for the Cardinals.
If you look at their record against bad teams (five wins or fewer), they’re not only 4-1, but they’ve basically blown out every team. They beat the Jaguars by 12, the Texans by 24, the Seahawks by 10 and the Bears by 11. In fact, eight of their 10 victories have come by two possessions or more. It should come as little surprise, then, that they have the fourth best point differential (+112 or 8.6 points per game) in the NFL.
They’re also a pretty well-balanced team, with both their offense and defense ranking in the top five when it comes to scoring.
Their main identity is their passing game, where Kyler Murray is enjoying his best season and is on the fringe of MVP talk. Here’s where he ranks in the major statistical categories:
- Yards per attempt: 8.7 (first)
- Completion percentage: 71.6% (first)
- Passing TDs: 19 (t-11th)
- QBR: 61.5 (fifth)
- Passer rating: 106.0 (third)
- QB rushing yards: 267 (10th)
- QB rushing TDs: 5 (t-third)
It helps that the Cardinals have a stacked wide receiver room that includes Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins. But it’s actually Christian Kirk who currently leads the team with 53 catches and 718 yards.
Defensively, it’s all about stopping the pass. They’re led by a pretty decent pass rush that includes Markus Golden (10.0 sacks) and Chandler Jones (9.5). In total, the Cardinals rank six in total sacks (35) and seventh in PFF’s team pass rushing grade (77.9). Their secondary is above average, with the team ranking t-13th in pass breakups (58) and t-13th in interceptions (12).
Where they struggle on both sides of the ball is the running game. They’re averaging just 4.0 yards per carry on offense (23rd) and allowing a whopping 4.7 YPC on defense (31st). Both of those—especially their poor run defense—could play in the Lions’ favor this week.
Key injuries: DE J.J. Watt (IR), DE Jack Crawford (IR), TE Maxx Williams (IR), WR DeAndre Hopkins (leg), RB James Conner (ankle)
The Cardinals are a relatively healthy team overall, with only a couple of starters on injured reserve. However, coming off the short week after playing on Monday Night Football, there are two injuries to keep an eye on. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins hurt his leg late in Monday’s game and was not on the field for the potential game-tying drive at the end of the night. Running back James Conner was also hobbled with an ankle injury.
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters on Tuesday that both were going to get an MRI for further testing. Neither is expected to have a serious injury, but it’s possible one or both are held out this week vs. Detroit.
Biggest strength: Receivers
Not only do the Cardinals have Green, Hopkins and Kirk—all of whom have at least 500 receiving yards this year—they also added Zach Ertz in the middle of the year. Since joining the Cardinals in Week 7, Ertz has 321 receiving yards in seven games and three touchdowns. Only five other NFL tight ends have more yards over that span.
With Detroit’s secondary absolutely obliterated by injury and COVID, this could get ugly.
Biggest weakness: Offensive line
If you watched Monday Night Football, you saw the Cardinals offense get thrown off balance due to the Los Angeles Rams’ strong defensive front.
TruMedia’s early numbers have the Rams’ defensive line/front 7 at 26 pressures in Week 14, which leads the NFL for this week; the average in Week 14 among 32 teams was 12.6 pressures.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) December 14, 2021
As of now, only one of the Cardinals starting offensive linemen has a PFF grade over 58, and you can see that play out in some other statistics. They’ve allowed 31 sacks on the year (t-12th most), and they’re averaging just 4.0 yards per carry (23rd)
Vegas odds for Sunday: Cardinals by 13.5