Cardinals vs. Lions: Two Ways the Cardinals are Different from Last Year
When the Detroit Lions entered the Valley in Week 1 last season, they were the first test in a new era in Arizona Cardinals football. Kliff Kingsbury was the new head coach. Kyler Murray was the hopeful franchise quarterback to be.
After a dubious start, a 24-6 deficit, the Cardinals showed grit in the fourth quarter, scoring the final 18 points of the game to force overtime. The game ended in a 27-27 tie.
Just over a year later, the Lions will be back in Glendale on Sunday, and several members of the Cardinals gave insights on the differences between the matchup this time around on Thursday.
Murray’s first three quarters as a pro were ugly.
He was 9-for-25 with an interception and four sacks (three from current Cardinals linebacker Devon Kennard).
He showed off star potential in the fourth quarter (15 of 19, two touchdown passes), but on Wednesday, Murray said that was a tough day.
"Everybody's first game in the league, you're trying to figure it out and get a sense of the speed of the game and how your game fits," Kennard said Thursday. "Now, he got it down pat and and he's out there killing it. I'm glad he's on my team."
Murray has played in 17 games since then and has had a full offseason to boost his craft. Adding wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to his arsenal doesn’t hurt either.
Murray has looked sharp over his first two games in Year 2, breaking a Super Bowl era record by becoming the first quarterback to run for at least 150 yards and throw for at least 500 in the first two games of a season.
Longtime Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald has noticed the growth in his young quarterback's decision-making and poise.
"I think Kyler has made a conscious effort to understand when to hold when to fold," Fitzgerald said Thursday. "He has done a great job thus far when things are not there throwing the ball away, not taking sacks that are preventable. There's obviously going to be times when guys get beat and he's going to get sacked, but there are also times that we can negate it and not put ourselves behind the sticks and I think he's finding a happy balance and it's fun watching him mature and understand what he's doing and how he wants to attack it."
On Wednesday, Murray said the sacks Kennard had on him would not have happened this year.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday that it is hard to watch the tape from last year's game against Detroit.
But, aside from linebackers Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks, safety Budda Baker and defensive tackle Corey Peters, the unit will look almost entirely new this time.
"We didn't have (Patrick Peterson), we didn't have (Robert) Alford," Joseph said. "We lost a couple of our d-lineman. We had two rookie corners starting.
"It looked different."
Peterson is available for Sunday this time, plus the Cardinals have significantly more depth up front and in the linebacker corps, partly due to Kennard being on the team.
Joseph reviewed what went wrong during last year’s matchup, and he said that his young defense did OK in spurts, but was susceptible to the big play. The Lions gained 477 yards in total, 361 through the air.
"(Detroit) made some big plays with Danny (Amendola) on the under route in the second quarter (47-yard score), they scored a touchdown on third-and-16 in the red zone," Joseph said. "I thought we did some good things last year; we hit the quarterback a lot. We decently stopped the run game. But we gave them too many big plays, especially in the red zone. Watching that game was hard to watch; I didn't want to watch that this year. But I think last year, for our defense, for me and for the guys who played, it had to happen. It was obviously a new scheme and a bunch of young players playing.
"We can look at our defense this year that's vastly improved."
Joseph called the Lions the best passing offense the Cardinals have seen to this point in the season. Detroit’s top receiver from last year, Kenny Golladay, missed the first two games due to injury, but returned to practice this week and could be ready for Sunday.
This game could be a marker to see where Joseph's unit is compared to last year.