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The Detroit Lions knew they were due for a takeaway.
Coaches spoke about their statistical importance last week, especially while Detroit was in the middle of a drought. Entering Week 3, the Lions and the Houston Texans were the only two teams in the NFL without a forced turnover through the first two weeks.
That changed, and quickly, Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
The Lions came up with three interceptions, including the first of rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah’s NFL career, which the offense converted into 10 points in a 26-23 victory.
“Turnovers are critical every single week,” coach Matt Patricia said after the game. “We talk about it throughout the course of the week. We just haven’t had them on defense. It’s something that was really important to us, and the guys did a great job of making plays. Again, give credit to the guys on the field. They’re the ones that did it.”
Not only did the Lions get three takeaways, but because the offense didn’t turn over the ball, Detroit had a net turnover difference of plus-three. The Baltimore Ravens entered Sunday leading the NFL with plus-four net takeaways.
The Lions got all three of their interceptions out of different defensive alignments. But Patricia wasn’t looking for praise.
“Let’s give credit to the players for making great plays,” he said. “I think that they just really did an outstanding job of studying all this week. I think they may have saw a couple of things, but I think they did a great job of making those plays on the field.”
Safety Duron Harmon got the first interception at a key moment in the first quarter. The Cardinals were down, 3-0, with 5 minutes, 40 seconds left and faced third-and-10 at the Detroit 30 as the Lions played man coverage and faked a blitzed. Kyler Murray still got pressure up the middle and might have rushed his deep pass up to tight end Dan Arnold. Tracy Walker had tight coverage on Arnold, who managed to tip the high pass just enough that it fluttered into Harmon’s hands.
The Lions’ offense on the ensuing drive managed just three yards and went three-and-out.
The second quarter brought different results. On first-and-10 from the Arizona 20, the Lions were in zone coverage. Murray didn’t see a wide-open KeeSean Johnson near the right sideline and instead tried to fit the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. But Collins was playing tight coverage, read the play well and jumped in front of Fitzgerald to steal the pass.
The Lions’ offense took over at the Arizona 27 and scored six plays later to take a 10-7 lead.
More coverage from Lions win over Cardinals:
In the third quarter, the Lions ran a stunt with the Cardinals facing third-and-12 from their 38. Romeo Okwara flushed Murray out of the pocket and to his right. He threw on the run to DeAndre Hopkins, but Okudah undercut the route and made a diving catch that he returned 36 yards to the Arizona 22. Six plays later, Matt Prater’s 24-yard field goal put the Lions ahead, 20-16.
Patricia’s favorite part about the takeaways came as the Lions walked off the field victorious. Harmon found him and apologized for missing the tackle on Murray’s 1-yard touchdown run.
“I’ll say, here’s the best part about all of it,” Patricia said. “You have turnovers like that, it’s great, and then Duron comes up to me after the game — and this is why you love him — because he was like, ‘I owe you one. That’s my fault on the touchdown.’
“He didn’t even care, and I was like, ‘All right, well we won. We’re good. We’ll move forward.’ All he cares about is trying to be perfect all the time and trying to make the best plays. That’s the stuff that has to breed into everyone else on the team, and I think those guys are. I appreciate his leadership. It was great to have those turnovers.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.