Setting the Stage
Kickoff to regular season. Enter the Kingsbury/ K Murray era (which replaces last year's "Wilks/Rosen" regime which replaced the BA...oh, never mind). While we've been led to expect a wide-open offense with a more mobile QB plus a return to the 3-4 on defense, we really won't know what the Cards will bring until we actually see them do it on the field. Lions (with Patricia as their 2nd-yr. head coach) also offers a new product (albeit probably more "old school" than the Cardinals).
Lions' Last Game
It was their final preseason game and little can be gleaned from it.
Lions in a Nutshell
Talented but underdelivering within a competitive division. Last year, Stafford was forced to carry the team on his back. (an inviting target for enemy pass rushers). This year, Kerryon Johnson is expected to bolster a running attack re-emphasized by new OC Darrell Bevell (most recently with Seattle).
When I skim down the roster, what strikes me (other than Stafford) is the absence of much high-profile talent. Instead, that Patricia seems to havedecided to focus on bolstering the nuts and bolts positions of the Lion roster on both sides of the ball rather than opt to rely on a couple of superstars.
Greatest degree of Lion-related buzz is being directed at 1st round pick TJ Hockenson (who figures to be a red zone terror). We'll also be keeping our eye on the three Lion starting receivers, (Danny Amendola, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones).
Defensively - if you believe the most ardent Lion fan scribes - the Lion defense is what keeps them in football games. They rate the Lion defensive line as arguably the best front four in professional football and corners Slay ("arguably the best corner in the NFL", they considered Oruwariye "the biggest steal in the draft" while recognizing Coleman for being the "highest paid slot corner" in the NFL. Off the edge, the Lions added Daniels and Flowers and Okwara, Kennard and Jones had 15.5 sacks between them last year. Writers describe the safety situation as "competitive."
QB ..09 Stafford...08 J Johnson....
RB....33 K Johnson...26 CJ Anderson
LWR....19 Golladay...15 Lacy
RWR ...11 M Jones...14 Fulgham
80 Amendola...41 McKissic
TE......83 J James...88 Hockenson....82 L Thomas
LT......68 T Decker...65 Crosby
LG...79 Wiggins...63 Benzshwawel
OC 77 Ragnow
RG.....60 Glagsow...66 Dahl
RT...71 Wagner...76 Aboushi
Defensive Interior Line
DE - 97 Z Allen...90 Bullard
NT - 98 Peters, 72 M Brown
DE - 95 Gunter, 91 Dogbe, 93 McDonald
SAM - 55 C Jones, 50 Reed
ILB - 43 Reddick, 47 Z Turner
MLB - 58 Hicks, 59 Walker
WILL - 56 Suggs, 54 Marsh
LCB - 25 C Jones, 33 Murphy, 21 P Peterson,
RCB - 20 Brock, 27 K Peterson
SS - 36 Swearinger, 38 J Thompson, 28 C Washington
FS - 32 Baker, 35 D Thompson, 40 Tillman*
Matchup: Lion Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Mainly Stafford throwing to his rookie TE star (Hockenson) and three wideouts (Golladay, M Jones and Golden Tate's replacement, Amendola). Hockenson figures to be deadly in the Red Zone. Amendola is a seasoned but speedy slot guy. Patrick Peterson is serving the first of a 6 game suspension. Murphy is expected to handle the slot. It will be up to Brock and rookie Jones to cover the outside. Swearinger will have his hands full handling Hockenson. Baker could be deadly as our "free-lancer" in the secondary. Expect Vance Joseph to employ a lot of man-coverage out of the 3-4 (& expect Patricia to look for ways to exploit this).
Key Matchuups - Stafford vs. Baker...Hockenson vs. Swearinger, Amendo;a vs. Murphy, Golladay vs. Brock, Amendola vs. Murphy. C Jones and Suggs vs. Decker and Wagner. Wiggins vs. Reddick.
Matchup: Lion Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
New OC Darrell Bevell is expected to shift part of the offensive burden from the passing game under Stafford to the running game on the shoulders of Kerryon Johnson and their new "muscle" RB, T Johnson. Cardinal run defense looked extremely vulnerable in the preseason and the Cardinal front seven has undergone more than a little bit of tweaking. Newcomers on the DL include Z Allen, Bullard, McDonald, M Brown and Dogbe. Late addition to the Cardinal LB group is Cassius Marsh. Expect Patricia to test the Cardinal run-defense early and often. It would be smart offensive strategy for the Lions to tire out Swearinger with Hockenson catching passes down the seam and K and T Johnson lugging the leather.
Key Matchup: Lion OL vs, Allen Peters, Gunter and Hicks. Hockenson vs. Swearinger. K Johnson and T Johnson vs. Swearinger.
01 Murray, 07 Hundley
31 D Johnson, 29 Edmonds, 37 Foster
WR - 11 Fitzgerald, 89 Isabella, 14 Byrd
WR - 13 Kirk, 19 KS Johnson
16 Sherfield, 15 Crabtree
TE1 - 85 Clay, 87 M Williams
LT- 74 Humphries, 66 Miles, 78 Toth
LG - 67 Pugh, 65 Gaillard, 68 Vujnovich
OC- 53 Shipley, 52 Cole
RG- 64 Sweezy, 71 Murray
RT - 76 Gilbert,
LDT....98 Harrison...92 Strong
RDT....91 A Robinson...96 Daniels
RDE....90 Flowers...93 Hand
OLB.....42 Kennard..44 Mayin
MLB....40 J Davis...51 Tavai
OLB....52 C Jones
LCB....23 Slay...39 Agnew...38 Ford
SS....28 Diggs...32 T Wilson...35 Killebrew
FS.....21 Walker...49 Moore...25 W Harris
RCB...29 Melvin...30 Virgin
NB...27 Coleman...24 Oruwarlye
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Lion Pass Defense
Kingsbury's Cards (who kept much of their offense under wraps in preseason) are expected to launch their version of the creative,aggressive "air raid" attack. Since we've never seen it in action during preseason, we can only guess is that it will be an up-tempo, short pass, multi-receiver attack that stresses "throwing to empty areas of grass" and featuring Fitz and Kirk on the outside and a rotation of Sherfield, KS Johnson and Isabella on the inside. Byrd and Isabella give the Cards' the ability (& threat)t to go deep. Lots of talk about RB David Johnson being given more touches both as a runner and receiver, but we didn't see much of this in preseason. Delivering the ball to these weapons and taking off on his own for an occasional long ramble is rookie QB Kyler Murray (short on height but long on speed, mobility and swag).
Last year's Cardinal OL was the target of considerable criticism (couldn't pass protect/couldn't run block). Despite an infusion of new blood (especially on the right side with Sweezy and Gilbert), there's been little in the preseason to indicate that these problems have been fixed.
New young QB. New offensive scheme. Unanswered questions on the OL. What could possibly go wrong? The Cardinal faithful hopes their exciting new offense led by their talented new QB aided by a healthy sprinkling of dynamic new receivers will turn around this offense as quickly as it cratered it a season ago. We're hoping so too, but we haven't seen it yet.
Kennard vs. Humphries. Rest of Cardinal OL vs.Okwara, Harrison, A Robinson & Flowers. Fitz and Kirk vs. Slay and Melvin. Sherfield and KS Johnson vs Coleman and Oruwarlye
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Lion Run Defense
Once upon a time, Card fans were crowing about rookie FB David Johnson. We're not sure why his train ran off the tracks, but after being sidelined with a wrist injury, David seemed a half-step late to the hole and lacking explosion. Card brass says we should chalk that up to predictable play-calling during the Wilks regime and that we should expect to see Johnson return to his former own explosive self.
Without revealing all his trade secrets and cautioning that the ratio of run-to-pass would depend on matchups and "taking what the defense gives us", Kingsbury has hinted that Johnson should receive an increase in touches - as a runner and receiver. (Note- This has not been all that evident in limited preseason action thus far).
In the off-season Patricia seemed to have focused on shoring up the unsung "meat & potatos" areas of the Lion roster. How well Lion tacklers match up vs. the somewhat revamped Cardinal run blockers will remain to be seen.
D Johnson vs. Diggs. Card OL vs. Lion front seven.
Lion Special Teams
K 05 Prater
P/KO 06 Martin
H 06 Martin
LS 48 Muhlbach
KR 39 Agnew
PR 39 Agnew
Cardinals Special Teams
P - ...02 Lee
K- ....05 Gonzalez
H - ...02 Lee
LS - 46 Brewer
KR - 13 Kirk
PR - 13 Kirk
Matchup: Lions Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Lion beat-writer described Prater as being "one of the most reiable kickers in the NFL." On the Cardinals' side, Gonzalez seems to have ridden himself of his occasional episodes of the "yips."
Lee has been outstanding as Cardinal punter. (Dunno much about Martin for the Lions).
Don't know much about Agnew as a returner. Latest Card depth chart suggest they are going with Kirk both as a PR and KR specialist.
Prater and Gonzalez are pretty even (give the more experienced Prater the edge). We like Lee over Martin. Not sure of Kirk vs Agnew (but Cards can always switch to Byrd, Isabella or another speedster).
Coaching / Intangibles
Lion lineup includes: HC Matt Patricia....OC Darrell Bevill...DC Paul Pasqualone...ST John Bonamego. Patricia's in his second year as head coach, and - in contrast to Kingsbury and his revamped system and rosters -figures to be more comfortable and settled in as a HC.
Cardinal coaches include: HC Kingsbury, OC (Kingsbury (Tom Clements is passing game coordinator). DC Vance Joseph, ST Jeff Rodgers (a key coaching hoidover).
Game represents KIngsbury's pro debut, sporting an exciting rookie QB operating a creative new offense.
Patricia comes from the Bellichick coaching tree and appears to be building his team from the inside-out (i.e. trenches first. Then the skill positions)
Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim have considerable work to do rebuilding fan-morale in the wake of the disasterous (& short-term) Wilks era. It seems to this writer that the hallmark was the depressing feeling that - both within games and over the duration of the season - that the Cardinals were in bad shape and had "run out of answers." With Kingsbury (& Murray) you don't get the feeling that the Cardinals will ever be out of answers.
How to Beat the Lions
Let's assume for a moment that the Kingsbury offense (& his rookie QB) are the "real deal" conceptually. The key to beating Detroit will, therefore, figure to be in the execution of the new offense.
The OL will have to block. The defense cannot afford to miss tackles. Receivers have to catch. Murray will need to hit his receivers full stride and on-time. (And Murray and his teammates will need to stay healthy and upright).
Tough challenge - we haven't seen enough to know whether Coach Kingsbury and Murray can pull it off, but, in our opinion, it seems do-able.