Cardinals face high-caliber passing attack led by Lions’ Matthew Stafford
Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
It’s Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season. The Arizona Cardinals face off against the Detroit Lions in then-rookie quarterback Kyler Murray’s NFL debut.
The Lions jumped out ahead of the Cardinals with a 17-3 first half before a 24-10 second half by Arizona forced a tie in overtime. Both defenses were overwhelmed, as the Lions faced the speedy Murray and the Cardinals’ new defensive coordinator was still getting a handle on his personnel with his star cornerback facing a suspension.
Now, fast-forward to 2020. The Cardinals sit at 2-0, looking like a much-improved unit on defense. The same can’t be said for the Lions, however, as they have gone 0-2 and have struggled to start the season.
The Lions may be at the bottom of the standings, but Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph isn’t counting out Detroit signal caller Matthew Stafford and Co. on Sunday.
“We’ve played two games and in my opinion this is the best pass offense that we’re going to see in the first three weeks. And it starts with the quarterback and the scheme and obviously having three or four targets that they can get the ball to,” Joseph said after Thursday’s practice.
Through two games, Stafford has compiled 541 yards and three touchdowns through the air on 44-of-75 passing attempts (58.7%). He’s also tossed two interceptions and five sacks.
Entering play Thursday, the QB is 10th in the league in passing yards and is averaging just over 270.5 yards per contest.
“They’re an explosive offense. They’ve got weapons all over the field,” Cardinals linebacker Devon Kennard, who played for the Lions last year, said after practice on Thursday. “Matthew Stafford in my opinion is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Playing with him last year, if you look at what he was doing last year before he got hurt, you could argue he was on his way to an MVP type of year.
“That’s the type of player he is. He was my teammate for two years, great friend of mine, was at my wedding this offseason and definitely can’t wait to get out there and be on the other side of things.”
Added into the mix is the fact that Stafford has done it without his No. 1 wide receiver Kenny Golladay. While the jury is still out on whether the wideout will make his season debut on Sunday, reports are saying the 6-foot-4, 214-pounder will be available.
Golladay has shown he can carry the load as the team’s go-to guy. Last season, the wide receiver paced the league with 11 touchdowns to go along with 1,190 yards and 65 receptions. He was targeted a team-high 116 times and averaged 74.4 yards per game. In the 27-27 tie between the two teams, Golladay was targeted nine times. He made four receptions for 42 yards and a score.
“Your No. 1 receiver allows your offense to dictate some,” Joseph said. “When you have a guy you have to account for every single down it makes you play very, very honest. It makes the running game better because you can’t load the box and leave him one-on-one constantly. Not having your No. 1 receiver makes a huge difference. He was a guy who led the NFL in touchdowns last year.
“He’s got height, he’s got speed, he’s got size and he can make plays on the ball. It’s going to be a lot different with him out there on Sunday to balance the calls between stopping him and also stopping their run game. … It’s an explosive offense. Without saying, their quarterback has hall-of-fame numbers. He can make every throw. He’s got great poise, he can buy time in the pocket. When you watch this offense play, it looks like a 2-0 offense. It’s going to be a challenge for us to go out there Sunday and slow this offense down.”
Golladay isn’t the only worry for the Cardinals, either. Marvin Jones Jr. has shown he can take over games as well. Jones added nine touchdowns and 779 yards on 62 catches last season. He accounted for four scores in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings and added two more against the Dallas Cowboys.
Luckily for Arizona, they return All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson to the fold for the rematch. Missing last year’s season opener against Detroit due to a suspension, Peterson faces his toughest test of the young season.
“It’s good to have one of our leaders to be on the field with us,” linebacker Chandler Jones said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have Patrick out there with us last year but any time you can get a captain, someone with Patrick’s experience on the field, there will always be an advantage for our team. It’s definitely good to have him out there, not just for the game plan but also his leadership.”