Lions vs. Cardinals: Takeaways from Arizona's 25-21 Win over Detroit
Carson Palmer was not great against the Detroit Lions, but the Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback did enough when it mattered to lead his team back from a fourth-quarter deficit to notch his first victory with the team.
Wideout Larry Fitzgerald did not play most of the second half with the hamstring issue that bothered him throughout the week of practice leading up to the game Sunday, and he ended his day with just two receptions for 33 yards (16.5 yards per catch).
Here are some takeaways from the hard-fought victory.
Cards Can Win Ugly
This is first because it is very important in the defensive-minded NFC West. Last week, they could not do enough on the road to pull out the win.
But the home opener turned out differently because of the play of the defense, and because of the run game.
Rashard Mendenhall carried 15 times for 66 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and scored the game-winning touchdown right at the two-minute warning. He had only five carries in the first half, but head coach Bruce Arians leaned on him with the team down late to gain important yards and to eat some time off the clock.
They won the time-of-possession battle because of it, and it turned into a win—an ugly one, at that.
Must Improve Situational Football
The Cardinals went just 1-of-4 in the red zone Sunday. That is, they converted four red-zone trips into just one touchdown.
Jay Feely converted the other possessions into short field goals, but they must get better when they have an opportunity to put six on the board.
The team was even worse on third downs, converting just 1-of-11—none until midway through the final quarter.
The third-down conversions were not an issue in St. Louis (7-of-14, 50.0 percent), but more of Sunday’s performance next week in New Orleans and they likely will not come out with the same scoreboard result.
Kerry Taylor Should Remain with Team
After being signed from the practice squad late in the week, wideout Kerry Taylor turned up big in the second half Sunday, with three receptions for 40 yards (13.3 YPC). All three catches resulted in first downs for the offense.
With four receivers suited up during a game, the team would be one injury away from a real problem. Arizona avoided that by calling up Taylor, and with Fitzgerald’s hamstring issue potentially lingering, No. 18 could be here to stay this season.
Will he be a stud and set the box score on fire with his stats? No, but he is a good No. 5 option and will step up when given the opportunity.
O-Line Much-Improved This Week
Palmer went down just once, and his offensive line kept him clean most of the day. It was a vast improvement over last week’s flashback to the past three seasons, when the line was so bad it was comical.
Left tackle Levi Brown was the key, holding his edge all game and allowing Palmer the time he needed to make throws.
The lone sack came after Palmer could find no open receivers downfield. Lions defensive end Willie Young brought him down for a loss of five on third down, nearly pushing the Cardinals out of field-goal range.
Brown did give up a sack to rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who stripped Palmer in what would have resulted in a costly turnover, but Young was called for illegal use of the hands.
Mendenhall would go on to score the game-winner later in the drive.
Jay Feely Was Dr. Jekyll This Week
Last week, we saw Mr. Hyde appear, as Feely’s missed 50-yard field goal at the end of the first half ended up being the difference in the game. Not to mention that he was lackluster on kickoffs.
Feely was jacked for this game, apparently, as the majority of his kickoffs sailed out of the end zone—he even clanged one off the crossbar of the goal post.
He also hit on all four field-goal tries, connecting on a long of 47 yards.
The Cardinals need Dr. Jekyll every week. No one can afford to see Hyde make an appearance, because the division is too closely contested.
One slip-up could cost the team more than just a “W” in the win-loss column.
Run Defense Still Stout
The unit’s major flaw last season has turned into a major strength this season. Coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense surrendered just 2.5 yards per carry to the Lions Sunday, including 2.8 yards per carry to Reggie Bush, who carried nine times for only 25 yards.
Through two games, opponents have rushed 44 times for a measly 116 yards (2.6 YPC) and no rushing touchdowns.
There are some big tests upcoming, with four combined games against San Francisco and Seattle, plus Carolina, Houston, Philadelphia and Tennessee. It’s a great start, but let’s see it a month and two months from now.
Coverage Still an Issue
For the second straight week, the defense allowed the opposing quarterback to top a 100.0 passer rating. One more this season, and they will match their total for all of 2012.
Lions quarterback Matt Stafford completed 24 of 36 (66.7 percent) passes for 278 yards, 7.7 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 108.3 rating.
It can likely be written in stone that Saints quarterback Drew Brees will top that mark next week when the Cardinals travel to New Orleans, because they have shown no ability to stop receivers. The completion percentage (68.9 percent) is way too high, as it appears the defense is happy allowing catches but keeping everything in front of them.
Lions wideout Calvin Johnson notched six receptions for 116 yards (19.3 YPC) and two touchdowns. He had Patrick Peterson's number most of the afternoon.
There are not many chances being taken, but when a defender does jump a route, it so far has turned out very poorly—just ask linebacker Karlos Dansby.
Carson Palmer Has Work to Do
A win is a win, but ugly wins can easily be ugly losses if one or two plays turn out differently. The sack/fumble of Palmer by Ansah that was overturned due to a penalty is a prime example of that.
Overall, the defense played well enough so that if Palmer were more efficient, the game should have been handily won. Missed opportunities throughout the game nearly cost the Cardinals a win, and they are lucky they did not.
It goes back to situational football. Third downs and red-zone opportunities—these are big players in offensive success. Without success in those two areas of a game, it is very difficult to win.