Week 1 Scouting Report: Lions must attack Cardinals depleted secondary
It’s finally game week! The Detroit Lions open the regular season on the road against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday, and SideLion Report examines what to look for on each side of the ball.
Congratulations, you made it! After months of anticipation, your Detroit Lions will play an actual game this week. Their Week 1 opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, have a new head coach in Kliff Kingsbury, a shiny new rookie quarterback in Kyler Murray and nowhere to go but up after finishing 3-13 in 2018.
In head coach Matt Patricia’s second season, the Lions have also retooled, with a remade tight end corps, a promising young running back returning from injury in Kerryon Johnson and an improved defensive unit looking to build on last season’s strong finish. The pressure is on this year after a disappointing 6-10 record last season.
Here, and each week, we’ll scout each team’s offense, defense and special teams units, how they match up against each other, and offer two players to watch from each squad.
When the Lions have the ball
As it seems every year, the Lions will go as far as quarterback Matthew Stafford can take them. He appeared in only one game during the preseason, but looked fine. He’ll have some new weapons in tight ends Jesse James and rookie T.J. Hockenson and a deep running back stable.
The Lions will look to wear out a Cardinals secondary that will be without their top two cornerbacks; eight-time Pro-Bowler Patrick Peterson will serve a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances and co-starter Robert Alford is on injured reserve. Rookie Byron Murphy and veteran Tramaine Brock will have trouble containing Lions wideouts Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones.
Hockenson is coming off of a standout training camp and preseason, and will present a major challenge for the Cardinals’ defense. Safety Budda Baker will likely draw that assignment, which is a favorable matchup for Detroit. Hockenson could be in for a big day in his debut.
Up front, the Lions are hoping for cohesion and stability on the offensive line after some heavy investments over the past few years. Center Frank Ragnow looks on track to play after a preseason ankle injury. Tackles Rick Wagner and Taylor Decker looked strong in limited preseason snaps, but could have their hands full with the Cardinals’ edge rushers.
Those rushers, veterans Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs (in his first year with the Cardinals), will look to generate pressure off the edge to make up for the lack of supplementary playmakers on the Cardinals’ defense. This is particularly due to the aforementioned holes in the secondary. If the line can keep Stafford clean, the Lions should have little trouble moving the ball.
Look for Johnson to get off to a good start as well, as the Lions hope to make him the featured piece for new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. The Cardinals gave up the most rushing yards in the NFL last season, and did not add any significant run stoppers to their defense in the offseason. Former first round selection linebacker Haason Reddick was supposed to be a major contributor in that area, but he has struggled over two seasons, and is recovering from knee surgery. His status for the game is unknown.