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Lions vs. Cardinals: Breaking Down Arizona's Game Plan

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Lions vs. Cardinals: Breaking Down Arizona's Game Plan
Norm Hall/Getty Images
Calvin Johnson (right) of the Lions looks for extra yardage against Patrick Peterson.

The Arizona Cardinals have a tall task ahead of them in Sunday's home opener against the Detroit Lions.

In this article, we'll take a look at the Arizona game plan for both sides of the ball. Before we dive into the analysis, let's see just what Arizona is up against. 

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson poses a threat, as always. Quarterback Matthew Stafford will throw the ball all over University of Phoenix Stadium. 

But the biggest offensive threat is running back Reggie Bush. He can punish teams in the running game and damage them through the air as well. Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Bush ran for 90 yards and added four catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. 

Defensively, Detroit's line is stacked with Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, bringing the pressure up the middle. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch poses a threat as he seeks his fifth consecutive season with more than 100 tackles. 

Safe to say, Detroit is going to be a very tough team to beat.

Let's take a look at what Arizona might be able to do to get the win. 

 

Offensive Game Plan

The Cardinals are going to have to pass their way to victory, with Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald leading the way.

Last week, against the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit shut down Adrian Peterson on the ground. Peterson ripped off a 78-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the game but was held to 17 yards on his other 17 carries. Peterson found the end zone again on the ground and added a receiving touchdown as well. 

If the Lions can shut down Peterson like that, how much easier will it be to shut down Arizona running back Rashard Mendenhall? Mendenhall pounded out 60 yards on 16 carries last week and it will be a tougher game this week. 

Detroit gave up 140 yards to Minnesota wide receiver Jerome Simpson so there is a good chance for Fitzgerald to post his second solid game to start the season. The question in the passing game is:

Who will be the second receiver to step up?

According to the NFL.com box score, no other Viking had more than 33 yards receiving, so Fitzgerald will need more help from his teammates than Simpson got from his own.

Tight end Rob Housler is likely to miss his second straight game according to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com. That leaves Arizona without much of a receiving threat from that position. Jim Dray and Kory Sperry are expected to be the two primary tight ends, like last week against the St. Louis Rams

Palmer had a solid game in the opener.

According to this infographic on the team's official website, he was solid in short-range and mid-range passes. Palmer will have to be effective like that this week to chew up the clock and keep Detroit's offense on the sidelines. Palmer was good against the Rams, but he is going to need to be better to get a win in this game. 

Fitzgerald is reportedly dealing with a hamstring issue, according to the same article. Check on his status tomorrow to find out if he will play. It would be a tough loss if he were to miss the game. 

The offensive line needs to have its "big-boy pads" on to deal with the Detroit defensive front. According to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said he has praise for the Detroit defensive line and is concerned with facing them.

Extremely concerned. These two interior guys are the two best in the league, I think, as a tandem. They raise havoc. Now you’ve (Ziggy) Ansah, Willie Young and all the guys they have outside.

And Jim Washburn, I think, is one of the best defensive line coaches. Obviously, you can already see his hands on these guys. They bring a force. And I know Gunther (Cunningham) likes to blitz, but when you have a front four like that, you don’t have to.

Arians went on to say that Suh will be a tough matchup in the middle of the line.

I think he brings it every down and then, when you’re playing him, you’d better have your big-boy pads on. Whoever draws that assignment, that’s your job.

You can’t double team him and then you’ve got Fairley over one-on-one all day. You’ve got to be able to mix and match how you block these guys.

Palmer will face a lot of pressure this week. Quick passes are going to be key to his success. The offensive line needs to have an outstanding performances. The running game needs to be more than a novelty to keep the Detroit defense honest.

 

Defensive Game Plan

Arizona will be focusing on stopping Bush this week, which is going to be the focal point of the defense. 

Darren Urban wrote on the team's official website that Bush changes the complexion of the Detroit offense. Not only can Bush run the ball and catch passes, he also is strong at picking up the blitz and providing extra protection for Stafford. 

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com went more in-depth on the analysis of Bush in the game against Minnesota. Brooks provides breakdowns of certain plays Bush had success with. Here are the key things to take away from his piece. 

Detroit is able to open running lanes for him, and everyone who is blocking holds their block long enough for Bush to get by. A line that can make and hold blocks like that makes a running back lethal. 

Several screenshots of the Detroit offense show screen passes that went to Bush and were very effective. Notice how Bush has at least two linemen downfield blocking for him. Backup running back Joique Bell has also been effective with screen passes, as shown in the article. 

Arizona needs to find a way to shut down the screen game and render the Detroit running backs more one-dimensional. 

Linebacker Karlos Dansby had issues in coverage last week against the Rams. Tight end Jared Cook was able to beat him. Cook finished with 141 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams knocked off the Cardinals 27-24. Karlos is going to be challenged as he will have two tough assignments. He can either try to stop Bush or cover a Detroit tight end like Brandon Pettigrew or Tony Scheffler.

Dansby can't do both.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson will be matched up against Calvin Johnson. In their last encounter, Johnson was targeted 17 times and made 10 catches for 121 yards in Week 15. Peterson will have his hands full trying to limit one of the game's best receivers. 

The Arizona defensive backs will have to be ready to defend a pass on a majority of plays. Stafford threw the ball a league-record 727 times last season. 

Arizona will also have to find ways to get more pressure on Stafford.

According to the NFL.com box score of the game against St. Louis, the Cardinals failed to record a sack. Sam Bradford dropped back to pass 38 times and Arizona gave him plenty of time to throw.

If Stafford gets tons of time to throw, this could be a disaster for the Cardinals. Stafford didn't get sacked last week by the Vikings on 43 drop backs, so pressure is a must for the Cardinals.

Disguising blitz packages will be helpful and Arizona may need to blitz more often. They also should try to use stunts and twists along the defensive line to cause confusion. 

Who wins this game?

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When you put it all together, Arizona needs to minimize Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson to have a chance to win. The Cardinals need to be on top of their game in pass coverage and find ways to bring pressure. 

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