This may be a game between the Cardinals and the Lions, but it feels like in some way, shape or form this week has been about arguably the best two wide receivers in the game (with a little Levi Brown sprinkled in.) Seeing how the Cardinals deal with Calvin Johnson – through Patrick Peterson, of course – was a natural, and then Larry Fitzgerald had to go and tweak his hamstring Wednesday and make his status a big part of the narrative.
The Lions are a better team and more importantly, in a better place, than the group that showed up to University of Phoenix Stadium last December and got pounded, 38-10. Then again, and I think this gets lost, so are the Cardinals. That Cardinals team was floundering on offense (and did so again in that game, mostly, even with the lopsided score) and on a nine-game losing streak. So it’s not like the Cards haven’t moved forward themselves.
It comes down to this: You can’t afford to start 0-2. Not in this division, not with this schedule, not with a team coming cross country to play in your home opener.
“We need a great crowd and the energy that will be there in the stadium,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Hopefully it will ignite us even more. Sometimes you use the opponent’s crowd cheering for them, but it’s nothing like when they are cheering for you.”
— Fitzgerald was asked this week if there are any matchups against a cornerback he relishes like Peterson does going against a guy like Johnson. Fitz said – no doubt knowing exactly what he meant – that it would be Peterson.
“Every day I match up with Patrick is special, in practice,” Fitzgerald said. “I have the benefit of having the top guy in my own locker room.”
We will take him at his word. Fitz did note how Peterson has gotten so much smarter as a cornerback, using safety help to create better leverage and just overall taking a step forward in the mental game when he already had a lot going for him physically. “That’s a deadly, deadly combination,” Fitz said.
— Life on an island against great receivers isn’t easy. But it can’t matter, cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “You know what you are getting into once you play this position,” Powers said. “You know some of the big-time names and guys in the league out there who have proved it, Calvin and Larry, that you know are top-notch. You have to believe in your technique and believe in your ability. They put their shoes on just like they do. You just have to have that type of confidence.”
— Big game for left tackle Levi Brown. It’s one thing to deal with speedster Robert Quinn on the turf. He’ll be back on grass, and the Lions don’t have an edge guy like Quinn. For all the focus on the Peterson-Megatron matchup, everyone knows Brown will be under the microscope too, after last week.
“We have a high expectation for that position and he has to meet that,” said offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin. “(He needs to) carry over things he does in practice and take it to the game. That’s all he has to do and he’ll be fine.”
— Arians said he thought inside linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Karlos Dansby played “solid” in St. Louis, although he said Brinkley got caught in space a couple of times. Profootballfocus.com gave both good grades against the run but noted their struggles in pass coverage.
— Missed tackles were an issue last week too. “I’m not surprised,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “Probably disappointed. (The Rams) are a good football team. We just have to tackle better. We had been doing a good job of it, but we didn’t last week.”
— Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was credited with two tackles and one quarterback pressure last week, according to the coaching staff. Dockett will need to make more of an impact for this defense to really shine.
“I don’t feel I played bad,” Dockett said. “I played well in spurts. I can do better. No matter what the stats say I always feel I could have done something better. The biggest thing was creating pressure when I had one-on-one blocks, I could have done a lot better with those.”
— The Cardinals, if you wanted to know, will be wearing their red jerseys. I anticipate white pants.
— There were no fines last week for the Rams for any of the hits on Andre Roberts. But cornerback Cortland Finnegan was fined $7,875 for a late hit (I believe on Michael Floyd, that was the play Finnegan drew an unnecessary roughness flag) and so was St. Louis linebacker William Hayes, who hit someone late after the play on a punt.
— Almost a week later, Tyrann Mathieu still isn’t going to get all giddy about his forced fumble against Rams tight end Jared Cook last week. He’s much more matter-of-fact.
“It definitely boosts your confidence, let’s you know you can make plays in the NFL,” Mathieu said. “I am looking forward to making more plays like that in the NFL. It’s all about how you practice. If you practice those things, 100 percent of the time you will make those plays in games.”
I mentioned that both Arians and Hall of Famer Deion Sanders (who happens to be a Mathieu mentor) called it one of the best plays they had ever seen. Mathieu shrugged his shoulders. “If I forced a fumble and picked it up and ran it back 100 yards, that’s amazing to me,” Mathieu said. “But I understand why they said it. It was a big-time play. I’m happy those guys are rooting for me.”
OK, that’s plenty. Cards-Lions Sunday. I’ll be on pre-game radio at 10 a.m., on KTAR 92.3 FM, if you want to give a listen.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Bruce Arians, Calvin Johnson, Cortland Finnegan, Darnell Dockett, Deion Sanders, Harold Goodwin, Jasper Brinkley, Jerraud Powers, Karlos Dansby, Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Lions, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
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