Calais Campbell and the Cardinals look to stay undefeated at home against the NFC North-leading Lions
The NFC’s best record will be on the line this afternoon when the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals face off on FOX. Entering this season, few if any would have predicted Jim Caldwell’s Lions (7-2) would be in first place in the NFC North this far into the schedule or that Bruce Arians’ Cardinals (8-1) would not only have a two-game lead in the NFC West, but also boast the NFL’s best record.
Leading surprising first-place teams is not the only thing Caldwell and Arians have in common either. Both have won Super Bowls as offensive coordinators (Caldwell with Baltimore in the 2012 season, Arians with Pittsburgh in ‘08) and are former Indianapolis head coaches as well. Caldwell took over for Tony Dungy in 2009 and went 26-22 in three seasons, including an appearance in Super Bowl XLIV in his first season. Caldwell was fired after the 2011 season and replaced by Chuck Pagano, who brought in Arians as his offensive coordinator. In 2012, Arians served as interim head coach while Pagano battled cancer, leading the Colts to a 9-3 record and earning AP Coach of the Year honors in the process. Despite their shared history, this will be the first meeting between Caldwell and Arians as head coaches.
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Arizona -1
Three Things to Watch
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1. Drew Stanton’s Second Starting Stint
Arizona’s come-from-behind divisional win over St. Louis last week was somewhat bittersweet. At the start of the fourth quarter, Carson Palmer’s left knee appeared to give way when he dropped back to pass. He was eventually carted off the field and later diagnosed with a torn ACL. Drew Stanton replaced Palmer and promptly threw a go-ahead, 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Brown in the Cardinals’ next series. With Palmer on injured reserve and done for the season, this is now Stanton’s team. The pressure is on the seven-year pro to finish what Palmer started – win the NFC West and take this team deep into the playoffs. Stanton has started seven games in his career, but three of those came earlier this year when Palmer was sidelined by a nerve issue in his throwing shoulder. Stanton went 2-1 in those games, beating the Giants and 49ers before losing big to the Broncos in Denver. For the season, Stanton is completing less than half of his passes (46 of 93) for 614 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Stanton hasn’t been asked by Arians to do too much in the pocket, but he’s made plays when he’s needed to and, more importantly, he’s taken care of the football (no turnovers). Arizona has a very good defense and a productive running game powered by Andre Ellington, but much of its success moving forward also will depend on the quality of play it gets from Stanton. And to that end, he better be at the top of his game this afternoon against a Detroit defense that’s ranked No. 1 in the league in both yards and points allowed.
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2. Ground to Gain?
Besides the aforementioned coaching ties, another thing Detroit and Arizona have in common is what has transpired on the ground. The Lions are No. 2 in the NFL in rushing defense (71.3 ypg) with the Cardinals close behind (78.6). Both teams have allowed just one opponent to rush for more than 100 yards and the most either has given up to a running back is 84. On the flip side, both teams also have had trouble establishing their own running games. Detroit is second to last in the league (77.8 ypg) in rushing offense with Arizona not faring much better at 29th (83.6). In summary, neither team has given much ground this season nor have they gained much. Will either side of this coin flip this afternoon or it will be more of the status quo?
3. Saving the Best for Last
A big reason why Detroit and Arizona are a combined 15-3 entering Week 11 is that both have excelled in late-game situations. The Lions have won four games in a row, with the last three by a combined six points courtesy of fourth-quarter comebacks. The Cardinals have orchestrated three fourth-quarter comebacks of their own, two of which featured the game-winning points within the final three minutes. Detroit did yield an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead at home in its 17-14 Week 5 loss to Buffalo, but the Lions haven’t lost since. In Week 6, two touchdowns in the final 3:38 served as the final points in a 24-23 win over New Orleans at home. Next was a 12-point fourth quarter capped off by a 48-yard field goal with no time left to edge Atlanta 22-21 in London. Then last week, an 11-yard Matthew Stafford-to-Theo Riddick touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining produced a 20-16 win over Miami. The Lions have worked their late-game magic both at home and on the road, while Arizona’s three comebacks have all been at University of Phoenix Stadium. Both teams are certainly no stranger when it comes to late-game heroics, so it will be interesting to see which one gains the upper hand should this afternoon’s proceedings develop into a nip-and-tuck affair through three quarters. And considering just 1.5 points separate these teams when it comes to overall point differential, that’s an entirely plausible scenario.
Detroit hasn’t enjoyed this much success since 1954, while Arizona has seized control of what many perceive to be the NFL’s toughest division, despite having to deal with a rash of injuries. Both the Lions and Cardinals have relied heavily on their defenses, so don’t be surprised if this is a low-scoring affair. Arizona has to carry on without Carson Palmer, but Drew Stanton more than held his own during a three-game starting stint earlier this season. Detroit may seem to have the advantage offensively because of the quarterback situation, but the Cardinals are undefeated at home and Bruce Arians has been pushing the right buttons all season. I don’t expect that to change this afternoon, even with a backup quarterback going up against the league’s No. 1-ranked defense.