Two teams battling to salvage some professional pride while changing the culture under their first-year head coaches will get together on Sunday afternoon as the Detroit Lions travel to Glendale to play the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.
Detroit (4-8) battled the Los Angeles Rams well early last Sunday, but the depth of talent for Los Angeles won out in 30-16 loss to the Rams at Ford Field. Matthew Stafford completed 20 of 33 passes for 245 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The running game didn’t really get going all day long as the Lions' offensive line was no match for Aaron Donald. Stopping the run was another issue for Detroit, as Todd Gurley rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns. This game was a microcosm of the 2018 season as the front office will need to continue to build quality depth along the offensive and defensive lines.
Arizona (3-9) ended its decades-long losing streak at Lambeau Field as the Cardinals upset the Packers 20-17. The win was the first in Green Bay for the franchise since 1949. Head coach Steve Wilks has been fighting an uphill battle all season long in year one and to get a win against the Packers should infuse a bit of confidence within the entire building. Arizona ran the ball well, picking up 182 yards on the ground while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. The defense did a nice job of making the Packers one-dimensional as Aaron Rodgers threw the ball 50 times but finished with just 233 yards.
Detroit at Arizona
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec 9 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Lions -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Detroit offense
The Lions need to come out and attack this Cardinals defense with a balanced offensive game plan. Rookie Kerryon Johnson has missed the past two games with a knee injury his status and it's not looking like he'll be able to return this week. But veteran LeGarrette Blount has picked up the slack, posting 149 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Johnson's absence. In addition, a fast start would help an offense that has not scored more than 22 points since a 32-21 win at Miami in Week 6. The Lions have Matthew Stafford who is certainly capable of pushing the ball downfield, but offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter needs to stay patient with his play-calling against an Arizona defense that can be scored on but has been pretty solid against the pass (fifth in the NFL) compared to the run (29th).
2. Cardinals' running game
David Johnson and Chase Edmonds combined for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in last week's win over the Packers. This level of execution by Johnson, Edmonds and the offensive line opening holes is the recipe for this Arizona team to stay competitive in games the rest of the season. A strong running game takes pressure off of Josh Rosen, who was just 11 of 26 throwing the ball in tough conditions at Lambeau Field. Rosen just needs to manage the game for the time being until he gains more experience and he also needs to improve on his decision-making. He has more turnovers (11 INTs, two lost fumbles) than touchdowns (10) through his first 10 games. Expect offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich to try and establish the ground attack early to wear down the Detroit defensive front.
3. Something has to give
The Lions have struggled on the road this season, going 1-4 away from Ford Field. After losing a couple of one-score games at San Francisco and Dallas and the beating Miami in Week 7, Detroit has not been very competitive in its recent road contests. For example, the Lions fell behind 26-7 against the Bears in Chicago and had to scramble with a second-half rally to make the final score respectable. State Farm Stadium has turned into a home-field disadvantage for Arizona this season as the Cardinals are 1-5 there. One of the biggest challenges that Arizona always faces every year is the invasion of visiting teams’ fans as the trip to Glendale is always popular for those looking to escape the December cold weather. Thus, the mentality of both of the teams will be interesting to watch with both out of playoff contention. The two rookie head coaches should be safe but some of the players may not have the same level of job security so that should motivate a few guys Sunday afternoon.
Arizona needs to prove that last week was not a fluke so look for the Cardinals to try and replicate their formula from the win in Green Bay to get this game into the second half with a chance to win. Detroit has to control the clock and start fast to put the Cardinals in a big enough hole to force Josh Rosen to have to throw the ball to try and come back. Arizona is going to do just enough offensively and dominate the turnover battle to make it two wins in a row. The loss for the Lions will only raise more questions about the direction of the team in year one under Matt Patricia as the expectations were much higher than sitting at just four wins with three games left to play.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Lions 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.