Quick reads: Lions can't solve Murray in fourth-quarter turnaround
The News' Nolan Bianchi with quick observations from the Lions' 27-27 tie with the Cardinals on Sunday.
The way Lions fans felt about their team to end the third quarter compared to what they're probably feeling after a 27-27 tie are probably polar opposites. The Cardinals put up 18 unanswered in the game's final quarter to tie Detroit at 24-all, turning what appeared to be a strong, season-opening road win into near disaster.
The Lions looked great for three quarters, and we'll get to that in a second, but for our Week 1 takeaways, we have to start with what went wrong — this was a game Detroit needed to win, with visits from the Chargers and Chiefs and a trip to Philadelphia looming in Weeks 2-4.
Murray wears down Detroit's 'D'
The Lions' defense contained the No. 1-overall pick Sunday through three quarters, a major reason why Detroit look a lead into the fourth quarter to begin with.
So what changed? Rhythm, mostly. The Lions did a good job of limiting All-Pro running back David Johnson to 25 yards on eight carries in the first half. That limited Kyler Murray in the passing game, as he went 6 for 16 passing for 41 yards through two quarters.
But once Johnson got involved in the rushing and short-passing game in the fourth, that opened things up for Murray in a major way. He was able to tire out the Lions' defense by dinking, dunking, and bombing his way to 154 yards and two touchdowns on 15 for 19 passing in the final quarter.
Agnew struggles in return game
First, an issue that appeared long before the fourth quarter: Detroit's return game looked rough, and All-Pro returner Jamal Agnew didn't do himself any favors. He returned five punts for minus-2 yards, a muffed punt that put Arizona at Detroit's 8-yard-line and led to the Cardinals' first points of the game, and a three kick returns that averaged just 16 yards with a long of 21.
Hockenson leads revamped ... passing attack?
All right, now to some good news.
Well, sort of.
A majority of the buzz surrounding the arrival of new Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell seemed to center on his expertise in the running game, which Detroit's offense has lacked for the better part of this decade — maybe even this century. That was nowhere to be found, and that's certainly a problem: Second-year back Kerryon Johnson carried the ball 16 times for 49 yards and former Los Angeles Rams rusher C.J. Anderson 11 carries for 35 yards.
Still, the Lions were somewhat successful on offense Sunday, and it's all thanks to the passing game that was led by none other than rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Iowa product caught six passes for 131 yards, the single-game record for a tight end in an NFL debut, including once for a 24-yard touchdown. Not bad, eh? While there had been some funny feelings surrounding the eighth-overall pick Hockenson, thanks in part to the Eric Ebron experiment, Sunday's record-setting performance should surely be enough to soothe those concerns.
Elsewhere, Lions receivers were getting open for Matthew Stafford, who went 27-for-45 with 385 yards and three TDs, with relative ease through three quarters.
Offseason acquisition Danny Amendola put together a solid effort in his Lions debut —though his decision to stay in-bounds on a reception late in the overtime period could have cost the Lions a shot at winning the game on their final possession — catching seven passes for 104 yards including a wide-open 47-yard touchdown reception to put the Lions up 10-0 in the second quarter; third-year receiver Kenny Golladay could have rolled his way into the end zone after catching a pass near the goal line for his second-quarter score.
Lesser-known names make big plays
Damon Harrison. Darius Slay. Trey Flowers. Mike Daniels.
Those were some of the biggest names in a Detroit offense that was expected to make some noise this year, and while they all quietly put together solid performances, it was some of the defense's lesser-known names and some recent acquisitions who were getting noticed on Sunday.
Three of those guys were making their debuts for Detroit, but two returning linebackers looked particularly impressive. Second-year Lion Devon Kennard was in high-gear during the entire first half, sacking Murray three times in the game's first two quarters while rookie Jahlani Tavai added another.
Former Raiders corner Rashaan Melvin broke up three passes, including a throw in the third quarter that ended a Cardinals drive at the Lions' 27. One play before, former Seahawks defensive back Justin Coleman broke up a throw to Christian Kirk in the end zone.
Second-year safety Tracy Walker, stepping into a starting role with the release of Glover Quin, picked off Murray in the first quarter and made a great play to break up a deep throw to Larry Fitzgerald on the Cardinals' final drive. Walker and Melvin led the team with nine and eight tackles, respectively.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.