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2017 Regular Season
Preview: Cards & Lions

Setting the Stage:
It's hard to scope out many opening games because there's no current season footage or stats to base conclusions on. To use 2016 stats is to ignore personnel turnover and a new crop of rookie players.
For purposes of this preview, we're using (despite its shortcomings) information from Pro Football Focus (PFF). It's not perfect and a bit dated, but at least it can provide us with an idea of "who the Lions actually are.

That said - on paper, the Lions don't seem to have very much to terrify its opponents. A lot of their success has ridden atop the shoulders of QB Matt Stafford, but WR Andre Johnson (aka Megatron) is no longer on the active roster, which leaves Golden Tate, M Jones and Ebron to carry Johnson's water. Their OL is spotty. They've got a couple of very good RB's. On defense, they've got quality at one of the CB's and both safeties. But they've got little to write home about on the Front 7. (Ziggy Ansah does come back from injury and he can help the Lions on the Edge).

Meanwhile, the Cards return with their offense virtually unchanged - the only "new" starters are Veldheer and Humphrey who switched LT and RT positions. Carson Palmer is back. David Johnson is back. Fitz is back. The only significant areas of concern are keeping Palmer and wideouts Smokey and Jaron Brown upright and healthy.

On defense, both Edge rushers and Interior D linemen are back. Depth is a bit iffy at ILB and we appeared to be successful at upgrading #2 CB and replace a couple of starting safeties. There are those who attribute last year's disappointing results with a breakdown in Special Teams play. Cards added an experienced kicker and punter, which should right the ship in 2017.

Perhaps the biggest intangible the Cards bring to 2017 is veteran leadership, especially on defense and ST's - Dansby, Bethea, Dawson and Lee to name just four.

It's a road game in a different time zone, and the Cards don't always put away teams they should be able to handle. But I still like our chances.

Detroit's Preseason
Lions went 2 & 2 in preseason, beating the Colts 24 - 10 and Jets 16 - 6 while losing 30 - 28 to the Pats in the "important" 3rd game and to Buffalo 27 - 17 a week ago.

Rosters/Match-ups

Lion Offense

WR       15  Tate..............19 Golladay                             
LT..........73 G Robinson..70 C Robinson
LG        60 Glasgow........66 Dahl            
C          64 Swanson                             
RG       76 Lang.............xx Lake............xx Tomlinson......xx Z Kerin           
RT        71 Wagner        xx Milhaiik       
TE        85 Ebron...........87 Fells............80 Roberts
WR      11 M Jones Jr...13 TJ Jones.....10 Abbrederis
QB       09 Stafford.......42 Rudock       
RB       21 Abdullah      34 Zenner
RB       25 Riddick        36 Washington 38 Green
          

 

Cardinal Defense

DE        92 Rucker..........90 Nkemdiche
NT        98 Peters...........69 X Williams.....72 Pierre                
DT        95 Gunter......... 97 Mauro                  
SLB     55 C Jones                
ILB       43 Riddick ........20 Bucannon....45 Bynes        
ILB       56 Dansby.........57 Wheeler           
WLB    44 Golden..........96 K Martin     
LCB     21 Peterson.......37 T Williams                   
RCB    28 Bethel...........26 B Williams....28 Bethel              
SS       41 Bethea..........27 Branch.........30 Ford                 
FS       32 Mathieu........36 Baker
   

Matchup: Lion Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
It's Stafford throwing to Tate, the Jones Boys, Abbredaris, the TE (Ebron) with Abdullah coming out of the backfield. Lion pass blockers should be vulnerable to edge rushers C Jones and Golden (along with whichever "from out of left field" blitzes) Bettcher wants to dial up).

With Bucannon expected to be held out at least one more week, ILB will consist of "The Master" (Dansby) mentoring "The Student" (& top draft choice) Riddick. Major concern for Card pass defense will be mixed-up communication covering the transition-area between the LOS and deep patrol.

Two best Lion pass blockers listed by PFF are RG Lang and OT Wagner. Lions acquired former Niner Greg Robinson - a high draft pick considered a bust in SF.

Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Tate. C Jones and M Golden vs G Robinson and Wagner. Ebron vs. Mathieu. Bethel vs. Abbredris.

Matchup: Lion Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Judging from the Lion depth chart, it looks as if Detroit is going with 2-back offense featuring a FB (Riddick), so expect them to run early and often. Abdullah is rated Above Average overall by PFF. Card run defense was good a year ago, but has had sporadic trouble during preseason setting the edge and filling the right gaps. We've reportedly cleaned up this problem, but you never know.

Key Matchup: Dansby and H Riddick vs. T Riddick and Abdullah


Cardinal Offense

WR1    11 Fitzgerald..........13 Jaron Brown.....10 Golden
LT        74 Humphries........73 Wetzel                       
LG       76 Iupati.................xxBoone                   
C         53 Shipley..............62 Munyer             
RG       70 Boehm                  
RT........68 Veldheer...........69 Holden.............75 John
TE        87 Niklas...............80 Momah            
WR2    12 John Brown.....14 JJ Nelson.........16 C Williams           
QB       03 Palmer.............05 Stanton............07 Gabbert     
RB       31 D Johnson.......38 Ellington...........33 K Williams......35 Penny
TE        84 Gresham

Lion Defense

DE        94 Ansah           .90 Washington.........78 Valoaga       
DT        91 Robinson     ..97 Spence................98 Ledbetter    
DT        92 Ngata           .xx Thornton
DE        69 Zettel           ..xx Bryant..................79 Barrett        
OLB......59 Whitehead    54 Longa         
MLB     40 Davis           ..58 Worrilow..............43 Bellore        
OLB      44 R-Maybin                    
CB        23 Slay            .31 Hayden................39 Agnew
CB        24 Lawson        30 Tabor....................28 Diggs
SS        32 Wilson         .35 Killebrew    
FS....... 27 Quin.............45 C Washington.......26 Carey

 

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Lion Pass Defense

Carson Palmer says he's in his best physical and mental shape ever. The Floydless WR unit (Smokey and Jaron Brown, Fitz and JJ Nelson) are back and intact. Gresham is ready to deliver on the expectations the Cards had when they got him. Niklas (if he can stay healthy) is ready to become a force. The OL is the same as last year, with the only change the flipping of tackles Veldheer and Humphries from right to left. Backup depth across the 5 positions has been upgraded, with a final peg in the puzzle the last-minute signing of veteran lineman Alex Boone.

A year ago, the Lions sacked the QB 27 times (compared to the Cards' 48. PFF projects the Detroit 2017 Detroit sack total to improve to 36. The drafting of MLB Jarrad Davis and return to the active roster of DE Ziggy Ansah should contribute to improved stats.

Detroit has a pretty competent secondary - CB's Darius Slay is considered "Above Average" by PFF. #2 CB Nevin Lawson is rated "Average." Safeties Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson carry Above Average ratings. Where Detroit seems to come up short is on the edge (where leading pass rusher Heyder is out for the year but Ansah comes back "just in time" from injury to join C Washington) and at LB ((where, with the exception of rookie standout Davis) everyone is rated Below Average or lower).

Look for Palmer to utilize his receivers, TEs and D Johnson to exploit Lion intermediate coverage with short passes. Expect Cards to run multiple-receiver packages to put pressure on Detroit's #3 and #4 corners (Tabor and Hayden). Bringing Gresham and Niklas into the pictures should keep Detroit's safeties and LB's "honest" and open things up for Cardinal RB's Jonson, Ellington and KW.

Key Matchups: Fitz vs. Slay. Jaron Brown vs. Lawson. Smoke Brown vs. Tabor. Gresham va. Quin. D Johnson v. Wilson. Ansah vs.Humphrey

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Bucs Run Defense
D Johnson is consistently rated in the top 3 of all NFL RB's (due to being a multiple threat as a runner, screen and wheel-route receiver).

Detroit runs a 4-3 defense. It's solid up the middle vs. the run with Haloti Ngata and A'Shawn Robinson plugging up the middle and rookie MLB Jarrod Davis providing sideline to sideline run support.

Card run blockers aren't the best but aren't horrible either. Humphrey is the only Cardinal O-lineman rated Above Average or higher by PFF.

Expect Cards to test the Lion flanks early and occupy Detroit's front seven with intermediate throws to a variety of receiving options.

Key Matchup: D Johnson vs. Davis. Iupati vs, Ngata. Boehm vs. A. Robinson.

Special Teams

Lions

PK        05 Matt Prater                           
H          02 Redfern                               
KO       05 Prater           02 Redfern                   
P          02Redfern                                
LS        48 Muhlbach                            
PR       15 Tate              13 TJ Jones........10 Abbrederis
KR       13 TJ Jones       10 Abbrederis

Cardinals

K         04 Dawson                          
P          xx Lee                                   
H          xx Lee                        
LS        86 Brewer                             
KR       10 Golden              
PR       10 Golden

Matchup: Lion Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Prater was 31 for 36 in FG attempts; (4 of 5 from 30 - 39 yds and 10 of 14 at 40 - 49 yds). Redfern is a new Lion punter. Tate's the new punt returner. TJ Jones returns kicks.

Last year, thre Lions averaged 1.3 yds per punt return (while holding their opponents to 6.0). They averaged 22.7 in kick returns while giving up 21.5).

Some Cardinal observers (including yours truly) estimate that poor special teams play cost the Cardinals 4 games (& a spot in the playoffs). Changes were made in the offseason and preseason with the Cards signing 42-year old veteran kicker Phil Dawson and 35-year old Punter Andy Lee. It is felt that their steadying presence alone could win us 4 more games in 2017.

Whether the Cards coverage and return games will enjoy equal improvement over 2016 remains to be seen. Cards had hoped to take advantage of rookie TJ Logan's explosiveness as a returner, but will have to wait till at least mid-season when he's expected to come off IR. Until then, Brittan Golden will be given first crack at returning kickoffs amd punts.

Key matchups: Dawson and Lee enjoy an experience edge over Prater and Redeirn. Tate and TJ Jones should enjoy an edge over Golden in the return game.

Coaching
DT: Jim Caldwell is Lion HC. Solid resume but no ring as a head coach. DC is Teryl Austin.
OC is Jim Bob Cooter who is a former QB coach.

Card HC is Bruce Arians (aka the QB whisperer). His DC is Jim Bettcher (who employs an aggressive ("every man is an island") defensive philosophy. Harold Goodwin is OC but Arians calls most of the play, employing a "no risk it/no biscuit" approach. Cardinal coaching staff is an interesting blend of mostly AARP members and rookie interns.

Last Word
Opening game. Eastern time zone. On paper, this looks like a Cardinal winner, but we've seen past Cardinal teams play down to the level of their opponents and turn "gimmes" into "should'ves."

It's important (both for this game and the 15 others) that the Cards leverage what looks like a solid edge in talent up and down the roster by consisently playing up to the level of that talent.

We want this to be a WYSIWYG team.


 
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