Allen Park — In previous years, we’ve used Tuesday to review the coaches film from the previous weekend’s Detroit Lions’ game and break down a single play, or maybe a series of events. But we’re going to change it up this year, and offer a bigger picture overview of the game.
Each week, we’ll review the entire game, from two unique angles. First, the All-22, a wider angle shot than you see on the broadcast, that shows where each player is on the field. Second, the end-zone cam, which provides far greater insight into the play in the trenches.
After a thorough review, and some diligent note taking, we’ll present our 10 observations from the contest. Enjoy.
1. Stopping Johnson
Before suffering a major wrist injury last in the third quarter, Cardinals All-Pro running back David Johnson was having little success on the ground. He finished with a meager 23 yards on 11 carries. So what did the Lions do right?
How about a little bit of everything, which isn’t unusual when you shut down a player with Johnson’s talent. It started with the Lions winning their one-on-one matchups up front, particularly on the edges. Anthony Zettel, Ziggy Ansah and Cornelius Washington did good work setting the edge, while the linebackers and safety Tavon Wilson maintained consistent gap integrity on the inside lanes, forcing Johnson to slow his feet or bounce many of his runs outside.
And credit to the defensive backs, namely Quandre Diggs and D.J. Hayden, for beating their blocks on the perimeter to limit Johnson on the outside.
Johnson did have success in the passing game. The Lions threw a few different looks his way, but he beat most of them, including a 24-yard gain when the Cardinals got him matched up with Ansah on a wheel route down the seam.
2. Detroit’s run game
The Cardinals weren’t the only team that struggled to run. The Lions gained 82 yards on the ground, but 24 of it came from Matthew Stafford and Kasey Redfern scrambles.
The Lions attempted to run a lot of stretch zone runs, and struggled to block them effectively, in part because of the Cardinals’ defensive alignments. It left the Lions’ linemen lunging to make blocks, allowing the Cardinals to get easy penetration and leaving the ball carrier few cutback lanes.
T.J. Lang got hit with a holding call on one of the stretch zone plays, but he had no other option. His assignment was too far away from the snap and would have dropped running back Ameer Abdullah for a big loss. The hold was desperation and something you hope you can get away with.
The Lions were a little bit better running more traditional power plays, but the timing of the interior linemen was off when it came to breaking from their double teams and putting a body on the Cardinals linebackers in the second level.
Detroit’s best runs came from these between-the-tackles carries, with Abdullah gaining seven and five yards on back-to-back carries in the fourth quarter, and Dwayne Washington converting a 3rd-and-1 in the red zone, thanks to a sizeable lane created by an excellent pull block from Lang and an impressive seal by tight end Eric Ebron.
3. Dropping D-line
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin dug a little deep into his bag of tricks against the Cardinals, regularly having his defensive linemen drop into coverage. That works when you have athletic options up front, including Ansah and Zettel.
The play-calling wrinkles nearly netted the Lions a pair of interceptions, but Zettel and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata weren’t able to hold on to passes that hit their hands. As mentioned, it also backfired once, when Johnson beat Ansah down the seam for 24 yards.
The most creative front Austin threw at the Cardinals saw Zettel lined up wide with defensive tackle Akeem Spence directly over the center and safety Miles Kilelbrew on the opposite edge. Ansah roved with the linebackers in the second level and ran a stunt with Spence up the middle on the snap. Killebrew dropped and Diggs blitzed from the nickel spot. The play resulted in Detroit’s only sack, but credit largely goes to Zettel for an impressive individual effort, more so than the exotic pass-rush look.
4. Davis’ debut
There were a lot of promising moments from linebacker Jarrad Davis’ professional debut, but plenty to clean up. The first-round pick really struggled at times in coverage, getting beat by Johnson running an angle route, Larry Fitzgerald sitting down against a zone and tight end Jermaine Gresham down the seam for what would have been a touchdown had safety Glover Quin not broken the pass up at the last second.
Davis also missed a couple of tackles and lowered his shoulder instead of wrapping up when making a stop on third-and-1, allowing Arizona running back Kerwyn Williams to get the first down with a second effort.
Nothing about Davis’ scouting report, from his athleticism to his dedication to his craft, suggests he won’t improve rapidly. He’ll need to.
5. Stafford report
Matthew Stafford was shaky early on, and I’m not just talking about the interception on his first throw. His throws reached their destinations, but many were slightly off-target, often requiring the pass-catcher to do unnecessary work to make the grab and giving Cardinals defenders extra time to close.
Stafford got much better as the game progressed, including some Pro Bowl-caliber plays. His first touchdown pass showed poise under pressure, as he initially looked to scramble from a muddied pocket, realized the lanes weren’t there and rolled outside to find Marvin Jones coming back to the ball in the front of the end zone.
In the second half, Stafford delivered another pretty pass to Jones, exhibiting advanced touch on the deep throw down the sideline, between two layers of the Cardinals defense.
Stafford finished the day 29-for-41, a solid 70.7 completion percentage. That could have been even better had his receivers not dropped five passes.
6. Lingering secondary concerns
It’s difficult to take much away from the performance of Detroit’s secondary, but it must be noted how poorly Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer played. The 37-year-old misfired on a number of open receivers, including two out routes and a pair of deep throws. Aaron Rodgers won’t make those mistakes.
7. Across enemy lines
During the pre-draft process, the Lions certainly had interest in Haason Reddick, but the athletic Temple linebacker was long gone by the time the team was on the clock. After one game, you could see why he was so coveted.
Reddick was like a lightning bolt in space, reading and reacting like a five-year veteran. He flew to the ball and make a number of solo tackles, including multiple in space on Abdullah, giving the back no time to process his next move after catching a pass.
Reddick finished with eight tackles, including 1.5 behind the line. It looks like the Cardinals have found themselves a special player.
8. Killebrew’s emergence
If you’ve paid attention, you know the Lions like what they have in Killebrew, and his increased playing time shows it. His rapidly developing skill-set was on full display in the opener. He showed outstanding instincts on a third-down in the red zone, reading a delayed route run by Gresham to perfection and dropping the tight end for a four-yard loss.
Killebrew also flashed his improved coverage skills in the middle of the field, sticking in tight end Troy Niklas’ back pocket down the seam and batting away Palmer’s throw. That’s not a play Killebrew was making as a rookie last season.
The interception in the fourth quarter, which Killebrew returned for a touchdown, was more luck than skill. Still, you have to finish the plays that come your direction and the young safety secured the pick and returned it, untouched, for the game-sealing touchdown.
9. Game-altering plays
In a topsy-turvy game with 68 points and five turnovers, there are a handful of game-altering plays, but one stood out on each side of the ball.
At the end of the first half, the Cardinals had a third-and-10 in the red zone, looking to go up 17-6 at the half. Rookie defensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter took a rare rep as an edge rusher and got some pressure, flushing Palmer from the pocket. As Palmer escaped to his right, Ledbetter spun away from his blocker and pursued.
Palmer had a receiver come open in the end zone and he looked to connect, but Ledbetter dove and tripped the quarterback, causing the pass to come up well short. The Cardinals would settle for a field-goal attempt, which they missed, and the Lions drove down to set up a 58-yarder by Matt Prater. Ledbetter’s effort ended up being a 10-point swing.
On offense, TJ Jones dropped two passes in the first half, but his ability to locate the ball and make a grab on a laser thrown behind him to covert a third-and-10 in the fourth quarter was the key play on a fourth-quarter scoring drive that put the Lions ahead for good.
10. Bookends deliver
Right tackle Rick Wagner was everything he was promised to be as the guy setting the market for his position in free agency. He gave up almost no ground in pass protection and was arguably the Lions’ most consistent run blockers, even though the unit, as a whole, accomplished little.
On the opposite side, Greg Robinson did an excellent job slowing Chandler Jones much of the afternoon. The talented edge rusher did record a sack, but more credit goes to the Cardinals secondary for taking away all of Stafford’s reads than blame to Robinson for not holding the block longer.
It looks like Bob Quinn found a reliable stopgap for the injured Taylor Decker and it only cost the Lions a sixth-round pick (and Robinson’s $3.2 million salary).