Lions vs. Cardinals preview: All eyes on Johnson
James Hawkins breaks down Sunday’s Lions-Cardinals game at Ford Field (1 p.m. Fox/WJR).
Cardinals to watch
David Johnson, RB: While Arizona’s offense struggled last season, the third-year pro excelled in 2016. Johnson recorded a league-leading 2,118 yards from scrimmage (1,239 rushing, 879 receiving) and was the only player to surpass 2,000 yards. He’s every bit as dangerous as a receiver as he is a runner, and his versatility makes him one of the top offensive dual threats in the league.
Patrick Peterson, CB: One of the premier corners in the league, the seventh-year veteran hounds the opposition’s top receiving threat and is the key cog to Arizona’s defense. Peterson could have an added chip on his shoulder after his play slipped a bit last season, allowing 60.6 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught and quarterbacks to record an 80.7 passer rating when targeting him, per Pro Football Focus.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR: The ageless wonder led the league with 107 receptions last year and is looking to string together three straight 100-catch, 1,000-yard seasons for the first time in his 14-year career. While he may have lost a step or two, Fitzgerald is as sure-handed as they come (71.3 catch percentage in 2016) and remains an excellent possession receiver operating out of the slot.
Slow down Johnson: In games where David Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards, the Cardinals are 6-1-1 the past two seasons. But the solution isn’t as easy as stacking the box since Johnson can burn the defense as a receiver. He lines up all over the field and led the NFL in targets (107), receptions (80), receiving yards (879) and missed tackles forced (27) in the passing game among RBs last year. Containing Johnson will be a huge test for the Lions and rookie LB Jarrad Davis.
New look line: The Lions will trot out several new faces on the O-line, with LT Greg Robinson, G T.J. Lang and RT Rick Wagner. How quickly the unit can mesh and open holes for the run game will go a long way this season, particularly against the Cardinals and their stout secondary led by CB Patrick Peterson and FS Tyrann Mathieu.
Opposite ends: Detroit’s defense desperately needs to get off to a fast start this season, especially with its brutal first-half schedule, and there’s no better way than forcing a few turnovers. The Lions were tied for the third-fewest takeaways with 14 (10 INTs, four fumbles) last year, while the Cardinals had twice as many and tied for the fourth-most at 28 (14 INTs, 14 fumbles).
Health concerns: It may only be Week 1, but the Lions are already in midseason form in terms of injuries. Detroit will be without last year’s top sack artist and pass-rusher Kerry Hyder (Achilles) and LT Taylor Decker (shoulder), and it’s unknown how much DE Ziggy Ansah (knee) and TE Eric Ebron (hamstring) will play after being sidelined much of the preseason.
Facts and figures
■ The Lions are 5-3 in season openers with QB Matthew Stafford under center, and 3-0 at Ford Field. In eight openers, Stafford has thrown 13 TDs, 10 INTs and averaged 280 yards passing.
■ The Cardinals allowed the second-fewest yards per game (305.2) and ranked No. 14 in points allowed (22.6), while the Lions ranked No. 18 in total defense (354.8 yards) and No. 13 in scoring defense (22.4) in 2016.
■ Under Jim Bob Cooter last year, Stafford set a single-season franchise record with an interception percentage of 1.7 (10 INTs on 594 attempts) and the offense recorded the fewest giveaways in a single season since 1940 with 15 (10 INTs, five lost fumbles).
■ This is the first meeting between the Lions and Cardinals since Oct. 11, 2015, when Detroit lost, 42-17, at Ford Field. The Lions lead the all-time series 33-28-5 but have lost the past seven meetings.