Justin Rogers and John Niyo of The Detroit News break down the Lions' 17-3 victory over the Cardinals, snapping a 25-year drought without a win in the state of Arizona. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 17-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
It sure feels like we’ve seen the last of Ziggy Ansah in a Lions uniform, and that’s a shame.
Detroit rolled the dice on Ansah in the 2013 draft, taking the relatively inexperienced defender out of BYU with the No. 5 overall pick. Former defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was in love with Ansah's physical gifts and natural instincts, and saw the limited experience as a blessing, since there weren’t many bad habits that needed to be coached away.
Ansah delivered on his potential early in his career, tallying 15.5 sacks over his first two seasons prior to threatening the franchise record with 14.5 his third year. It truly appeared the Lions had one of the NFL’s next great pass rushers on their hands.
But then the injuries hit.
In 2016, it was a high-ankle sprain. The next year, he battled knee, back and ankle issues.
The Lions opted to apply the franchise tag this past offseason, a $17.1 million hit to keep Ansah around for coach Matt Patricia’s first year, but the edge rusher suffered a shoulder injury in the first half of the season opener, sidelining him six weeks and limiting him a few more.
Ansah was highly productive when he was on the field this year, recording four sacks and generating pressure at a better clip than any player in the league on third down, but he aggravated the shoulder injury in the victory over Arizona, and needed a trainer to support the weight of his arm just to get off the field.
The Lions will unfortunately be left wondering what might have been, but it’s time to move on. The cliché is well worn, but the best ability is availability and Ansah’s availability cannot be trusted.
He unquestionably remains a dynamic talent, and some team is likely to take the chance on him catching a wave of good luck with his health, but Detroit should no longer be the team left to clutch the rabbit's foot.
It’s a feel-good story in a feel-bad season. Zach Zenner, a little more than three months removed from breaking two bones in his back, answered the bell when he was called upon to seal the win over the Cardinals.
Little used as a ball carrier since his return to the roster, the Lions handed the ball to Zenner on seven of eight plays during a touchdown drive that put the game out of reach. He finished his day with 12 carries for a team-high 54 yards and a touchdown.
Unless Kerryon Johnson comes back from his knee injury, Zenner deserves a bigger role the final three weeks of the season.
Zenner always has been a fan favorite, dating to his rookie season, when he led the NFL in rushing yards during the preseason, but he’s accomplished little with his regular season opportunities, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.
But where Zenner can help the Lions now is with his running style, a far more north-south brand than LeGarrette Blount or Theo Riddick offer.
And, as Johnson proved when healthy, the Lions’ line does a good job setting up the initial lanes for a decisive runner who can get his shoulders squared in a hurry. Zenner is the best option on the roster for replicating that style.
While Zenner provides some hope for the ground game, it’s difficult to find a similar glimmer for Detroit’s once vaunted passing attack.
Kenny Golladay is a talent, no doubt, but he’s not a clear No. 1 option capable of shouldering the load. Opposing defenses can key in on him, utilizing a top corner and safety help, to eliminate the possibility of many big gains. That leaves Detroit’s secondary weapons — receivers Andy Jones, TJ Jones and Bruce Ellington, along with the team’s tight end trio — to pick up the slack. And to this point, they’ve proven largely incapable.
The result on Sunday was 101 yards passing on 23 attempts for Matthew Stafford. The only time he’s thrown for fewer yards during his 10-year career was when he exited in the first half with a shoulder injury against the Chicago Bears.
This is Stafford’s reality for the remainder of 2018; a bunch of check-down throws to his backs and tight ends, with the occasional shot to Golladay. And that’s a formula for some paltry results.
Stafford will get Marvin Jones back in the fold next year, but it’s clear the Lions will need to add a weapon or two in the passing game this offseason. It’s looking more and more likely it will be a priority in the draft.
Not surprisingly, given the way the season has unfolded, no Lions player is garnering much attention for the Pro Bowl. In fact, none are ranked among the top 10 at their position in fan balloting.
But one deserves to be. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison, acquired in a midseason trade from the Giants, has been consistently dominant since joining the Lions.
Thought primarily as a run-stuffer — and he's extraordinary in that department — he's also provided plenty to Detroit's front collapsing the quarterback's pocket. He popped Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen twice on Sunday, and according to Pro Football Focus, Harrison has generated eight quarterback pressures over the past three games.
No one is going to confuse Harrison for Aaron Donald. They play two completely different styles, but Harrison is as dominant as they come as a gap-eating nose tackle, whether he's recognized for it or not.