The Detroit Lions travel down to Arizona to face their Week 2 opponents, the Cardinals. Plenty of lessons learned after their up-and-down victory against the Minnesota Vikings in the season opener. This road matchup is nothing to take lightly, and the Lions will have to click on all cylinders to leave Arizona with a victory.
Here are the most important keys to ending Week 2 2-0.
1. Attack Palmer
The front four of Detroit's defense got off to a nice start in Week 1, chipping in for three sacks, five hits on Minnesota's Christian Ponder and helping force three interceptions. After heavy pressure on Ponder, they should be licking their chops to get at Cardinals' new quarterback Carson Palmer.
Palmer is notorious for holding the football too long and is no threat to make plays scrambling on his feet. The Lions' depth on the line should be able to overwhelm Palmer and force some mistakes as well as knock down some passes.
Arizona's offensive line is one of the weakest links of the team. First-round lineman Jonathan Cooper broke his leg in Week 3 of the preseason against the San Diego Chargers on August 24. The battle of the interior should be won by the Lions.
Tackle Nick Fairley is listed as questionable due to a shoulder injury, but should be active. This could be a very disruptive day for captain Ndamukong Suh and Fairley.
2. Protect the Ball and Stafford
Last week, quarterback Matthew Stafford only turned the ball over once by an interception tipped at the line of scrimmage. Outside of that, he was effective and in control, completing 28 of 43 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns.
After standing strong against Minnesota's defense, it gets a little bit tougher on the road against Arizona. Protecting Stafford and taking care of the ball should be mandatory this week.
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson will be shadowed all game by arguably the best cover cornerback in the NFL Patrick Peterson. The rest of Arizona's secondary is filled with ball hawks like Tyrann Mathieu and Jerraud Powers.
The offensive line kept Stafford's jersey clean last week only allowing one sack. However, the Lions will be without starting right tackle Jason Fox who is nursing an injured groin. He was replaced by Corey Hilliard in the first half last week and will get the start this week. This unit needs a repeat of success from last week against the Cardinals rush.
3. Help Reggie Stay Healthy
New acquisition Reggie Bush wanted to put on a show at Ford Field, and he did just that. Picking up 90 yards on the ground, plus 101 receiving with a touchdown, Bush gave an exciting glimpse of how exciting he can make this offense.
My biggest concern with Bush in this offense is overusing him, exposing him to getting hurt. During Week 1, it happened.
Bush hurt his groin, knee and dislocated his thumb which was popped back in during halftime last week. The presence and game-breaking ability of Bush is way too important to this offense and Detroit's success.
To keep him healthy, however, I wouldn't lighten up this workload on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan mastered a great scheme to get Bush open in space. If the Lions want to help preserve Bush's health, the other secondary options can be utilized in making plays of their own.
Another efficient game from receiver Nate Burleson and running back Joique Bell would help. Any sort of reliability from tight end Brandon Pettigrew would help. Stafford and receiver Patrick Edwards connecting on one of those deep routes they run would help.
4. Cover Everybody
The Lions secondary is, without question, a work in progress. If Detroit's defensive backs don't cover and hold their own against Arizona, they could be in for a long day.
Even being past his prime, Carson Palmer's last game against the Lions was when he was quarterbacking the Oakland Raiders. Palmer had a dangerous game, completing 32 out of 40 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown, and that was with weapons like T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Palmer's weapons are much-improved and found a little chemistry last week against St. Louis. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald is still one of the best receivers in the NFL, and the Cardinals have some upcoming talent with Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd.
The Lions scooped up three interceptions, and one came from the secondary by safety Glover Quin. The cornerbacks didn't have the best performance last week, as rookie Darius Slay was picked on by receiver Jerome Simpson, and Bill Bentley dropped an interception.
The coverage units on special teams need to be on their best game as well. Arizona features one of the most dangerous return men in Patrick Peterson, and he's bound to return one at any moment.
Prediction: Detroit has lost the last four matchups against the Cardinals, mainly from mental errors and poor discipline. This could be a wild game that comes down to which team has the ball last.
Detroit 30, Arizona 27