Lions film review: Five observations vs. Cardinals

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — It wasn't pretty. in fact, it was downright ugly, but the Detroit Lions emerged victorious in Arizona on Sunday, 17-3, to move to 5-8 on the season. 

The first half was tough to stomach, with the Lions taking a 3-0 lead into the locker room. Sure, there was some decent defense being played, but let's be honest, both offenses are pretty bad. 

But a win is a win is a win, and we're here to dissect the good and bad from the performance in this week's film breakdown. 

Big Play Slay

It hasn't been the best season for All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay. A week ago we were pointing out his problems defending crossing patterns against the Los Angeles Rams. But against the Cardinals, Slay delivered the game's biggest play, living up to his nickname.

Late in the third quarter, facing a third-and-14 just across midfield, the Cardinals looked to extend a rare scoring opportunity with a pass play to the sticks. The offense came out in a 2 x 2 formation, with a pair of receiving options to either side. The Lions countered with a Cover-2 shell, disguising a Cover-1 robber designed to take away Larry Fitzgerald in the left slot. The cornerbacks were giving the outside receivers about 12 yards of cushion before the snap. 

In the right slot, tight end Ricky Seals-Jones ran a post pattern while covered by cornerback Deshawn Shead, drawing over-the-top help from deep safety Glover Quin. That left Darius Slay one-on-one on the outside with rookie Trent Sherfield. 

On the snap, Slay dropped back slowly, maintaining inside leverage and turning his body 90 degrees toward the sideline in case he needed to chase Sherfield on a go. As the receiver broke his route down at the first-down marker and turned back for the ball, Slay charged hard into the passing lane, stepping in front of quarterback Josh Rosen's pass for the pick.

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Slay did a nice job controlling his body, maintaining his balance and keeping his feet in bounds, allowing him to race 67 yards down the sideline for his first career score. 

Slay wasn't perfect on the day, battling some footing issues early and briefly leaving the field to address a minor injury, but overall, he was sharp. He finished with three pass breakups and had tight coverage on an attempted fade to Fitzgerald in the end zone on third down, leaving the Cardinals to settle for a field goal. 

Zenner's finishing touch

With the game still hanging in the balance, the Lions turned to little-used running back Zach Zenner to seal the deal.

Prior to the Lions taking possession with 8:14 remaining, Zenner had carried the ball twice, one which was negated by a holding call. But he was handed the ball seven of the next eight plays, including a 1-yard touchdown run, to put the game out of reach for the Cardinals. 

The Lions came out on the drive with personnel groupings intent on physically dominating the tired Cardinals defense. On the first handoff, the team had two tight ends off right tackle and guard Joe Dahl in the backfield operating as a fullback.

The run went right and the blocking to that side was excellent, with center Graham Glasgow firing into the second level and sealing linebacker Zeke Turner outside the lane. Guard Kenny Wiggins pulled to the outside, walling off linebacker Haason Reddick on the edge and Dahl led through the lane, blowing safety Tre Boston out of the hole. 

Zenner had to run through a tackle attempt by backside defensive tackle Rodney Gunter near the line of scrimmage, before popping into the second level for a 14-yard gain. 

On the next play, Dahl moved to the line, part of three tight ends off left tackle. Again, Zenner rushed to the strong side, showing patience for his lane to develop between Dahl and Levine Toilolo before dragging cornerback Patrick Peterson a few yards for a 7-yard pickup. 

After more modest gains of 2 and 4 yards, sandwiched around a 25-yard pass interference call committed by Cardinals safety Budda Baker against Kenny Golladay, Zenner churned out 7 more yards on an inside zone run with tight end Luke Willson, as the lead back in the I-formation look, plowing over safety Antoine Bethea in the lane while Wiggins pulled to seal out dangerous defensive end Chandler Jones. 

Zenner gained another 7 up the gut with his next handoff, taking advantage of a pair of well-executed tandem blocks. He capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge behind a series of down blocks from the left side of the line and wide receiver Andy Jones. 

Next man up

After subbing in as a blocking tight end three times in the first half, rookie Tyrell Crosby slotted in at right tackle for the remainder of the game when Rick Wagner went down with a concussion late in the second quarter. 

All things considered, Crosby held his own in his most extensive playing time this season, with just two glaring mistakes. The first came on a LeGarrette Blount run, when the rookie lost his center of balance and was tossed aside by Cardinals defensive end Benson Mayowa, resulting in no gain.

Crosby was also beat on a pass rush, having his punch chopped away by defensive end Markus Golden, who bent around the edge, forcing quarterback Matthew Stafford to step up and throw to Golladay while on the move. 

Other than that, Crosby played his part in keeping Stafford's pocket relatively clean on the afternoon, while fulfilling his run-blocking assignments. 

Focusing on Fitzgerald

With rookie Christian Kirk out of the lineup, the Lions concentrated their defensive efforts on shutting down Fitzgerald, often bracketing the future Hall of Famer on third downs, starting early in the game.

On third-and-10 in the first quarter, Nevin Lawson jammed Fitzgerald at the line as rookie safety Tracy Walker dipped into the frame as a robber, in case the veteran receiver slipped by the press. 

Lawson drew Fitzgerald more than any defender, but the Lions threw a number of looks at the receiver. Rookie Mike Ford and linebackers Christian Jones and Eli Harold also contributed to the coverage. And, as mentioned above, Slay was called upon in the red zone. 

Fitzgerald was targeted just once in the first half, a third-down throw where he lost his footing before the ball arrived. He didn't record his first reception until late in the third quarter, when he beat Lawson on a crossing pattern for 14 yards and was held without another catch until the final four minutes of the contest, after the Lions had built up their 14-point advantage. 

Anemic aerial attack

Matthew Stafford has never thrown for fewer than 4,000 yards in a season where he's played all 16 games. His lowest total came in 2014, when he tallied 4,257 yards. But after Sunday's game, he's on pace for 3,922. 

Stafford has been relegated to a check-down machine. He doesn't have the weapons to get open downfield or an offensive line capable of holding up long enough to keep him clean for some longer-developing route concepts.

Against the Cardinals, Stafford attempted six passes more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and three were negated by penalties (two in the Lions' favor). Two of the remaining three, deep shots for Golladay and Andy Jones, sailed over the receivers' heads, while Toilolo hauled in a modest 16-yard gain, 5 coming after the catch, down the middle of the field. 

Stafford finished with 101 yards, his fewest in a game he finished. It's the fourth straight week he's been held under 250 yards. 

The worst part is watching how little they're getting out of Golladay, the team's only viable deep threat. The Lions moved him into the slot, to get the young receiver away from Patrick Peterson, but those two catches netted just 5 yards. Stafford also took the aforementioned deep shot in the opening quarter, when he got Golladay one-on-one with a safety, but it was overthrown after the receiver unnecessarily jostled for position with Bethea down the field.

Twitter: @justin_rogers