In punt coverage, the Cardinals are giving up 15 yards per return. With
the ever-dangerous Eddie Drummond (a Pro Bowl caliber guy) returning kicks for
the Lions, this does not bode well for Arizona. Drummond is especially
dangerous given the fact that this will probably be a close game that is won by
the team that breaks the big play at the right time. J.J. Arrington and
Troy Walters seem to be incapable of returning any type of kick for more than 20
yards, so the Lions shouldn't have any worries there. I cannot stress
enough that this is a very big advantage for Detroit.
When it comes to kicking the ball, Jason Hanson has a well-deserved
reputation for having ice in his veins. Throughout his career, he's been
one of the most accurate, consistent, clutch kickers in the game. It just
so happens that he plays for Detroit and doesn't set records like Neil Rackers,
so he doesn't get as much press. Scott Player for Arizona and Nick Harris
for the Lions are both solidly average punters. Neither crushes the ball,
neither is an excellent directional punter at this point, and neither usually
puts as much air under the ball as you would like.
The punters are a wash, the kickers favor Detroit, and the return/coverage
teams heavily favor Detroit. Will it be enough for the Lions to
beat the Cardinals? Well, a lot of this game will still come down to
offense and defense, which is good news for Arizona.
On offense, at least in the passing game, the Cardinals really don't need to
do anything fancy. Given the tremendous size, strength, and mass advantage
Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Bryant Johnson hold over Dre Bly, Fernando Bryant, and Stanley Wilson, quarterback Matt Leinart should have a fun afternoon
playing pitch-and-catch with his talented wide receivers. This is provided
that Leinart can deliver the ball accurately and in a timely fashion and that
the receivers can properly use their hands and body position to cut off the
cornerback's avenue to the ball. All of these things can be assumed to
happen, especially since Arizona will probably play it safe with short and
intermediate timing routes, but these are the Cardinals we're talking about.
In the running game, the key will be Dennis Green's and Mike Kruczek's
willingness to stick with it, even if Arizona doesn't have early success pounded
Edgerrin James up the middle. Since Detroit is dealing with injuries and
suspensions (especially in the middle of their defensive line), James and the
offensive line should be able to wear Detroit down as the game gets into
the second half. Also, don't discount Marcel Shipp to get spot carries and
James and have an effective day against an undersized Lions defense, though not
relevant for Fantasy purposes.
On defense, the Cardinals need to play it as straight-up-and-down as
possible, without becoming predictable. The Lions have given up 29 sacks
already this year and Bert Berry and Chike Okeafor need to break out of their
collective slump eventually. Matched up against the underwhelming
combination of Jeff Backus and Rex Tucker should be just the cure for what ails
them. Antrel Rolle and Eric Green will need help over the top against Roy Williams and Mike Furrey (especially Williams), but the Cardinals should play
more of a Cover 1 defense, with Robert Griffith playing center field, covering
the deep man, and allowing Adrian Wilson to run around and get inside Jon Kitna's head.
In both the passing game and the running game, the linebackers need to be
very, very active. They need to patrol their zones and Gerald Hayes needs
to shadow Kevin Jones at all times. In known passing situations, Karlos Dansby and Wilson need to blitz Kitna, hopefully forcing him into a critical
mistake that will determine the outcome of this game (he has already thrown 11
interceptions this year).
In the running game especially, Calvin Pace and Orlando Huff need to keep
Jones from getting to the edge. Once he breaks containment, he can break a
big play very easily.
Overall, the Cardinals just need to play good, smart football. They
need to be patient on offense and defense, wait for Detroit to screw up, and
make them work for everything they get. Arizona has been burned for too
many long gains this season and most of them were as a direct result of being
too aggressive or being undisciplined.
While it's unrealistic to assume that the Cardinals can suddenly play mistake
free and disciplined on offense and defense, it's also unrealistic to assume
that Detroit will stop their sloppy style of play any time soon.
It also looks as though Leinart should face his first pressure-free game of
the season. The Lions defensive line is woefully bad at getting to the
quarterback, and they'll be without suspended stalwart tackle Shaun Rodgers.
The Cardinals are going through their 38th different starting five on the
offensive line this season (okay, that's an exaggeration, but not much of one)
and they've been considerably better in pass protection than in the running game
(though that's still not saying much). Leinart should have the time he
needs for his receivers to get out of their breaks, position themselves properly
to box out the cornerback, and Leinart should have a clear pocket to throw from,
delivering the ball to his targets in stride and accurately.
I still think that this is the game that Edge breaks free for a hundred
yards. He may do well, he may score, he should definitely catch some
passes out of the backfield. However, this will not be a break-out game
for him. Not with Arizona's offensive line. Not even with Detroit's
depleted defensive line. They will, though, and should stick with the
running game. Unless, of course, they fall way behind early.
Kevin Jones might actually have a long day. Arizona's run defense is
superior to its 24th overall ranking (especially if you take out the Green Bay
and Atlanta games) and has been surprisingly effective this year. The
Lions offensive line is weak up the middle and the tackles aren't especially
strong. There's only so much a talented running back with a solid passing
game to compliment him when he has to run behind a sub-standard line. Just
ask Edgerrin James.
Rolle and Green should match up well against Furrey and Williams, but it will
be up to the linebackers to fill the short and intermediate areas of the field
and Robert Griffith to patrol the deep area. The key, though, will be the
front four's ability to pressure Kitna, make him hear footsteps, and rattle him
so that he starts throwing erratically, fumbling uncontrollably, and chucking
the ball into triple coverage.
The trouble with playing a talented but inconsistent team like the Lions is
that you never know when the switch might get flipped and they finally remember
that they know how to play the game of football and play it well. On the
other side of it, you never know when the light's going to come on for the
It should be interesting to watch. Will the Cardinals "figure it out"
and end up blowing out the Lions? Or will the Lions put everything
together and blow out the Cardinals?
I'm thinking it will be a game full of blown coverages, mistakes, and big
plays on both sides. The winner will be the last team holding the ball.
Let's just hope Neil Rackers doesn't shank the potential game-winning kick.
Cardinals 23, Lions 20.