Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals: Takeaways from Detroit's 25-21 Loss
The Detroit Lions traveled to the desert with visions of payback in their heads on Sunday. Last year, the Cardinals annihilated a lifeless Lions team 38-10 in Week 15, the low point of a miserable season in the Motor City.
The Lions were much more competitive this time around. In fact, the visitors led most of the game before a late rally by Arizona overcame the Lions by a score of 25-21.
My notes for this game appear schizophrenic. There were so many things that Detroit did well, and some players really stood out for playing strong games. Yet I also have several entries where the tone gets dark, like Black Sabbath coming on the radio after The Mamas and The Papas. Unfortunately, in the end, the negatives trumped the positives.
Read on to find out the biggest takeaways from the Lions loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2.
Matthew Stafford Might Be Cured of His Slow Starts
One of the frequent criticisms of Matthew Stafford has been his propensity for coming out of the gate slowly.
Last week, Stafford started quickly against the Minnesota Vikings, though the production didn't translate well into points.
This week, Stafford was on fire throughout the first half.
After a Nate Burleson drop, Stafford was 8-for-11 for 64 yards heading into the Lions' third drive. Two drives later, Stafford stood at 13-for-16, capped off by a long touchdown catch-and-run by Calvin Johnson. At halftime, Stafford's line looked fantastic, as he was 16-for-20 for 210 yards and two touchdowns after two quarters.
Those are the kind of starts that win football games and earn Pro Bowl berths. Unfortunately, Stafford bogged down later in the game, which is a story for another slide.
Field Position Remains a Problem
One of the biggest factors in the game was field position.
Detroit got absolutely nothing from their return game, as Micheal Spurlock consistently failed to make the first tackler miss. When he did create a little space, penalties backed up Detroit into the shadow of their own goal post.
The starting field position on each Lions drive in the game has been broken down in the following table:
|Possession||Starting Field Position|
As you can see, there was one possession starting beyond the 20-yard line; and that one instance only allowed them to do so by exactly one yard.
Give credit to the Cardinals punt coverage team, which was very good in support of Dave Zastudil, but Spurlock needs to produce better than this.
The Third-Down Defense Was Fantastic
Detroit held Arizona to a putrid 1-for-11 mark on third down conversions in this game.
The Lions defense looked great on the pressure plays. Bill Bentley made a great tackle on Jim Dray to prevent a first down on one drive, and Glover Quin blanketed Andre Roberts on another, forcing an errant throw. Chris Houston (yes, Chris Houston) played another third-down ball beautifully and knocked it away.
Ndamukong Suh also deserves special mention for his work on third down. He didn't record a tackle or a sack on any of them, but Suh was incredibly disruptive on several of the Cardinals' failed conversions. He played a very strong, penalty-free game without Nick Fairley next to him to ease the pressure.
Darius Slay Is Not Ready
Rookie corner Darius Slay had a short day in the desert.
Last week, Slay got yanked after a couple of egregious coverage gaffes and some soft tackling efforts, as the second-round pick looked nervous and tight against Minnesota.
Against Arizona, Darius Slay looked completely lost. He was torched on a simple wheel route by fellow rookie Andre Ellington, a 36-yard touchdown that put the Cardinals up 10-7 midway through the second quarter.
It's one thing to get burned on a play, but it's another thing to get toasted when the play is an exact replica of something that was highlighted on the game tape from just last week.
The Linebackers Were Outstanding
My game notes are littered with variations of this basic riff: Stephen Tulloch was everywhere. The unofficial box score, per NFL.com, listed him with just five tackles, but wherever Arizona took the ball on offense, they found Stephen Tulloch nearby.
At least two of his tackles were right at the line of scrimmage, and he anticipated the running lanes and smartly attacked throughout the entire contest. On another occasion, I noted that he blanketed Larry Fitzgerald in coverage on a hook route. Tulloch also just missed forcing a fumble in time on the game-winning touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall.
DeAndre Levy also came to play. Of course his big highlight is the 66-yard interception return for a touchdown, but Levy was also very active against the run. Levy broke up a pass and was consistently in position when the Lions ran a zone cover scheme.
Ashlee Palmer didn't see as much action, but he made my notes with a great cover read on first-and-goal on the drive where Arizona ultimately scored the winning touchdown.
David Akers Is Not Jason Hanson
David Akers had a nightmare day for a kicker. He missed his first attempt, coming up a couple yards wide left, but then got a shot at redemption after Arizona's Justin Bethel was called for running into the kicker.
Akers and the Lions were able to move up five yards to re-attempt the kick, but this time, Akers hooked it to the right from 47 yards away. Apparently, he injured himself slightly on that play, as he was seen receiving treatment on the sideline shortly thereafter.
On the Lions' first drive of the fourth quarter, Akers got another shot from 47 yards out. This time, it was blocked by Justin Bethel, the same man who ran into him earlier in the game.
In a game where the Lions lost by four points, either one of those field goals would have been critical. If Akers had made both of them, the Lions would have won the game.
Lions fans were spoiled over the years by the great Jason Hanson. Sure Hanson missed a few kicks in his career, too, but where Akers missed those kicks today was typically the range where Hanson was better than anyone.
The Offense Without Reggie Bush Was Terrible
Reggie Bush had an active first half. He managed just 18 yards on eight carries, but he did flag down all three passes that were thrown his way for 44 yards. After one of those receptions, though, Bush left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury.
Bush quickly came back into the lineup, but he and the Lions offense both struggled thereafter. Bush picked up seven yards on the first carry of the second half, and he then fumbled the exchange on the next play. Arizona's Calais Campbell recovered the ball, and that was the last time we saw Bush on the field.
The knee apparently bothered him enough that he didn't feel right about returning, as noted in a tweet by Tim Twentyman of Lions.com:
Reggie Bush said he probably shouldn't have come back into the game because "he wasn't himself". Said he took helmet to knee.
— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) September 15, 2013
After that point, Matthew Stafford went 8-for-16 for 68 yards, as the Lions offense failed to produce a single point after halftime.
Backup running back Joique Bell is not a bad player, but he doesn't impact coverage or strike fear into defenses the way Reggie Bush can. There is no doubt that the Lions sorely missed the latter in the second half.
The Penalties Never Stop
A week after losing multiple scores due to avoidable penalties, the Detroit Lions once again committed far too many mistakes for comfort.
This week's penalty tally wound up at eight, for a grand total of 105 yards. A Willie Young "illegal hands to the face" penalty negated a beautiful strip-sack by Ziggy Ansah. Instead of a turnover, the Cardinals kept possession.
On the very next play, Israel Idonije crashed into Carson Palmer's legs and was flagged for "roughing the passer." All of the sudden, a drive that should have been over instead morphed into an Arizona field goal that closed the score to 21-19 in Detroit's favor.
Bill Bentley was flagged twice for pass interference, and both were good calls. The second one—which occurred in the end zone as Bentley desperately chased after Andre Roberts after being beaten off the line—was one of the easiest calls an official can make. Bentley crashed into Roberts before the ball arrived, with his back to the ball and his hands flailing wildly overhead. That mistake set up the game-winning touchdown.
Micheal Spurlock's one good return was wiped out by a holding penalty on DeJuan Gomes. Otherwise, it would have been a drive that was going to start at the Detroit 28-yard line instead commencing from the 8-yard line.
I didn't see any bad calls against the Lions, but the officials really missed one that incensed Lions fans everywhere. On a play where Arizona appeared to fumble and there was a scrum right in front of the Cardinals bench for the recovery, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians quite clearly throws a challenge flag onto the field well before any decision is made about the result of the play by the officials. As any Lions fan can tell you, that's supposed to be a 15-yard penalty, even though the challenge proved correct.
Calvin Johnson Is Fantastic
Calvin Johnson isn't called "Megatron" for nothing, as the best wideout in the game hauled in six receptions for 116 yards on Sunday, with two of them going for touchdowns.
The first touchdown is a play that I'm not sure any quarterback/wide receiver combination other than Stafford and Johnson could pull off. Johnson caught the ball on his back shoulder on a dead run between two closing defenders, and he then sprinted away from the defense for the 72-yard score. The margin for error for both Stafford and Johnson on that play was infinitesimal.
Johnson caught his second touchdown against the excellent Patrick Peterson on a nice fade route, using a clever rub from Nate Burleson to get free and leap up to make the catch. Unlike last week, Johnson secured the ball all the way back to the bench after the play.
It's a real treasure to watch Calvin Johnson use his length, strength, and speed on the football field. Even in a loss, Lions fans can take some solace in having the best wideout on the planet wearing No. 81 in the Honolulu blue and silver.
On 4th-and-4, Run a Play That Goes More Than Four Yards
Jim Schwartz and the Lions fell victim to trying to get too cute in this one.
The final drive ended with the Lions facing 4th-and-4 from their own 43-yard line. At the beginning of the play, Detroit came out with an empty backfield shotgun set.
After the snap, Stafford had to make a quick decision, forced to in part by a solid pass rush. So, he fired a quick pass to Nate Burleson slanting in from the right sideline, with Tyrann Mathieu close enough in coverage that he would know what flavor of gum Burleson was chewing. It was a two-yard route, and Mathieu made a nice tackle to keep Burleson from breaking free.
However, Burleson shouldn't have had to force a missed tackle to try and achieve the first down. When you need four yards, you should run a play that goes beyond four yards; it's really not that difficult of a concept.