Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals: Dave Birkett’s scouting report, prediction

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett breaks down the Detroit Lions’ Week 3 game at the Arizona Cardinals and makes a prediction: 

Detroit Lions (0-2) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0)

The coaches: Lions-Matt Patricia (9-24-1 overall, 9-24-1 with Lions; Cardinals-Kliff Kingsbury (7-10-1 overall, 7-10-1 with Cardinals).

Last game: Lions lost to Green Bay Packers, 42-21; Cardinals beat Washington, 30-15.

Last meeting: Sept. 8, 2019: Tie, 27-27

Key matchups

Lions TE T.J. Hockenson vs. Cardinals LB De’Vondre Campbell: Hockenson had a game to remember in his NFL debut last year, when he torched the Cardinals for six catches and 131 yards. He wasn’t the only tight end to have his way with Arizona, either. No team allowed more receiving yards (1,173) or touchdowns (16) to tight ends last season than the Cardinals, who added noted tight end stopper Campbell to their defense this offseason. Campbell broke up two passes intended for Washington tight end (and ex-Lion) Logan Thomas last week and he’s second on the team with 17 tackles. He’ll square off plenty Sunday with Hockenson, who’s caught all nine passes thrown his way this year for a team-leading 118 yards and should remain a viable part of the offense even with Kenny Golladay’s return.

Lions CB Jeff Okudah vs. Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins: Okudah had a rocky debut last week against Green Bay Packers star Davante Adams, and for an encore this week he gets another matchup with one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Hopkins, acquired in an offseason trade with the Houston Texans, is averaging 11 catches a game through two weeks and has emerged as Kyler Murray’s favorite receiver. The Cardinals don’t push the ball downfield a ton; Hopkins is averaging just 10 yards a catch. But they may look to challenge Okudah as he struggled with the deep ball last week. Surely, the Lions will give Okudah help, but the Cardinals have enough weapons that if Detroit devotes too many resources to Hopkins it could make for a long day.

MORE: Lions’ Patricia blasts report he didn’t want Okudah: ‘Blatantly not true’

Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Cardinals run defense

The Lions ran the ball well early last week, with Kerryon Johnson, not Adrian Peterson, getting the bulk of the work, and they may need to do so again Sunday to keep Arizona’s high-tempo offense off the field.

Peterson, Johnson and rookie D’Andre Swift will continue to split time, with Johnson the likely starter, Swift the third-down back and Peterson the most effective runner of the trio. Collectively, the Lions are averaging a hearty 5.6 yards per carry as they’ve gotten pretty/mostly good blocking upfront. Frank Ragnow is the linchpin at center, and Taylor Decker is off to a nice start at left tackle, but backup Oday Aboushi will make his second straight start at left guard.

The Cardinals have allowed 123 and 117 yards rushing their first two games, but have not given up a gain longer than 16 yards. Corey Peters is a space-eater at nose tackle, and Arizona has an active back end led by safety Budda Baker and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Edge: Lions

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Lions pass offense vs. Cardinals pass defense

Kenny Golladay is expected to make his season debut Sunday after missing the past two weeks with a hamstring injury. His presence should open up the deep passing game, which was emphasis for the Lions last season but has been virtually nonexistent through two weeks.

Perhaps Golladay’s return helps settle down Matthew Stafford, too. Stafford is completing just 58.7% of his passes on the season and has made uncharacteristic mistakes in both losses, taking two costly sacks and throwing two untimely interceptions. The Lions receiving corps has not done a good job creating separation, thoughHockenson has emerged as a viable chain-mover.  

The Lions have done well protecting Stafford this year, but they’ll have their hands full with a front that includes one of the NFL’s best pass rushers in Chandler Jones. The Cardinals are aggressive in bringing pressure, and they’re solid in the back end with Patrick Peterson and the emerging Byron Murphy at cornerback and Baker starring at safety. Edge: Cardinals

Cardinals run offense vs. Lions run defense

Arizona made the midseason trade a lot of Lions fans were clamoring for last year when they acquired Kenyan Drake from the Miami Dolphins. Drake gave Arizona’s offensive an immediate boost, and he and quarterback Kyler Murray give the Cardinals one of the NFL’s most dynamic rushing attacks now.

Murray actually leads the Cardinals with 158 yards rushing and three touchdowns through two games. He’s been more willing to scramble from the pocket and make plays with his feet this year and he gives Arizona options in the zone-read game, too.

The Cardinals have a mediocre offensive line, but the Lions hardly have the personnel to capitalize. They rank last in the NFL in rush defense and are coming off a game in which they were steamrolled for 259 yards on the ground. The linebacker play has been subpar so far, but more than anything the Lions seem to let mistakes compound on one another, which could be an issue Sunday given Murray’s ability to freestyle. Edge: Cardinals

Cardinals pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Murray is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to pass for 500-plus yards and rush for 150-yards in his team’s first two games, so to pigeon-hole him as a running quarterback is flat-out wrong. He’s got a cannon for an arm and his ability to extend plays, stop on a dime and launch the ball downfield is nearly unmatched. 

The Cardinals play at an extremely high tempo on offense, and they run the vast majority of their plays out of a three-receiver set. Hopkins is as sure-handed a receiver as there is in the NFL, and he and Murray have developed an easy rapport. Larry Fitzgerald is a gamer in the slot, and Christian Kirk adds speed on the outside.

The Lions will be shorthanded in the secondary for the second straight week as slot cornerback Justin Coleman is on injured reserve and outside corner Desmond Trufant is doubtful to play because of a hamstring injury. Okudah will make his second straight start and could draw the primary assignment on Hopkins. Tracy Walker should be back in the starting lineup as well at safety, but the Lions have the league’s worst pass rush and their man-heavy scheme could lead to Murray making more plays with his feet. Edge: Cardinals

Special teams

The Lions rank in the top 10 of Football Outsiders’ composite special teams rankings thanks in large part to Jack Fox and the punt coverage unit. Fox is averaging an unsustainable 51.3 net yards per punt and he’s come up with clutch kicks each of the last two weeks. Matt Prater has not been as reliable, missing two long field goals. But no one in the organization has lost faith in Prater’s leg. Jamal Agnew hasn’t had many opportunities in the return game, yet he’s capable of breaking a long one at any time.

The Cardinals are a middle-of-the-pack special teams unit. Zane Gonzalez is 4 of 6 on field goals. He drilled a 56-yarder in the opener, but has misses from 49 and 52 yards. Arizona had a punt blocked in its opener and has gotten little production from Kirk and Chase Edmonds in the return game. Edge: Lions


The Lions and Cardinals appear to be going in different directions as a team. The Lions have blown double-digit leads in their last four losses dating back to last season and are staring down the barrel of a winless September if they can’t spring the upset Sunday. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are one of the NFL’s “it” teams thanks to Murray’s star power and eye-popping play. I don’t think the Lions are as bad as they’ve played this season, and particularly not on offense, where Golladay’s return should lift everyone around him. But I also don’t think the defense is suited to stop Murray, who’s dual-threat ability makes him one of the handful of best quarterbacks in the NFL. I see the Lions doing their part to keep this close early, but unless they force a couple turnovers — something they have not done a single time this year — I can’t see them pulling the upset on the road. Pick: Cardinals 33, Lions 27

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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