Five things to watch from the Detroit Lions as they face Cardinals in opener

All eyes will be on Detroit’s defensive line

Finally, the regular NFL season is upon us.

The Detroit Lions are as prepared as they can be. They’ll take on the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the newly renovated Ford Field.

What will we see on the enlarged video screens?

Tough to tell.

Five things to watch :

1. Ziggy Ansah says he’s healthy and ready to go. Fine. What about the rest of the defensive line? Remember Khyri Thornton and Armonty Bryant are suspended. The tackles, with starters A’Shawn Robinson and Haloti Ngata, should be OK. Defensive end Cornelius Washington is a little tired of hearing about the questions on the ends. They can provide an answer by playing well and getting to Palmer early and often. Look for Anthony Zettel and Jeremiah Valoaga to rotate in at the ends. If the defensive line can persevere, the Lions have a better chance of winning.

2. Rookie middle linebacker Jarrad Davis has a lot on his shoulders. The first-round pick would not be starting unless defensive coordinator Teryl Austin had faith in him. He’s football smart, hard-working and talented, but he is also a rookie. It’s not like he’ll be alone he’ll be supported by Tahir Whitehead in the nickel package and veteran Paul Worrilow in the three linebacker sets.

3. Ameer Abdullah is healthy and so ready to go after missing the last 14 games last season. He and Theo Riddick must get off to a good start. This run game, with both of them healthy, should be similar to what we saw in the opener a year ago when they combined for 228 yards of offense. They’ll likely get some help from Zach Zenner, maybe in goal-line situations.

4. Of course, Matthew Stafford’s play will be the biggest factor this season. Everyone expects the best from him. He doesn’t like to think about the last time the Lions played the Cards when he was benched after throwing three interceptions. He’s a much different quarterback now.

5. Not only do the Cardinals have a stellar passing game led by quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Running back David Johnson can cause plenty of damage running the ball and catching it. He will be a good test for the secondary which is expected to feature the same starters as last year — Darius Slay, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson and Nevin Lawson.

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Cardinals 24. It’s a tough matchup, but homefield will have an effect in the opener. Everyone is healthy (except for punter Sam Martin) so the Lions must take advantage.

For Detroit Lions, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick can pack a one-two punch

They combined for 228 yards in 2016 opener

ALLEN PARK >> Despite last season’s inept rushing game, Lions coach Jim Caldwell has remained confident for this season.

The coach has two good reasons for his belief in a revitalization of a run game that was ranked 30th in the league averaging 81.9 yards per game in 2016.

It’s a whole new ball game with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick both healthy.

It all starts with the opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Ford Field. Game time is 1 p.m.

Abdullah missed the final 14 games last season due to foot surgery and Riddick played in just 10 games with a variety of injuries.

“Explosive. Both those backs, he and (Theo) Riddick, they can hit a home run on every play and you got to have them up. Ameer, one missed tackle and he can take it to the house, and same thing with Riddick,’’ Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said in a conference call this week. “In pass coverage, you better know where you’re going.”

No one is more excited to take the field than Abdullah who worked so hard to reach this point.

“It means a lot. I worked really hard. … That’s something I’ve always done. I’m the youngest of nine so I’ve always had to work to be noticed in my family because I have a lot of successful people. That’s something I pride myself on. I want people to know i’ve worked my tail off this offseason to be in the position and I don’t expect anything but good things for myself and this team moving forward,’’ Abdullah said.

He looked strong in OTAs and that carried on through training camp and his limited time in preseason games.

“Ameer creates big plays in the run game at a pretty high clip, and that’s exciting. Also creates big plays in the pass game. He’s an explosive player. Looks good running around out there, looks healthy, and he’s excited to get going this year,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said on Thursday.

Abdullah looks forward to getting back on the field with Riddick.

In the opener in 2016 — the only game they both played four quarters — they combined for 228 yards of offense. Abdullah ran up 63 rushing yards with 57 receiving yards and a score while  Riddick rushed for 45 yards and had 63 receiving yards with one receiving and one rushing touchdown.

“That’s cool, but that’s in the past really. This is 2017. What we did in 2016 when we were together it was good to watch on film to learn from but we don’t expect to be the same players as we were in 2016 even though it was a positive note we left on,’’ Abdullah said. “We want to be better and I feel like we are better. Just watching Theo I think he’s 10 times better. Anytime he’s out I’m definitely competing with him trying to keep that level of play.’’

The two have grown to be close friends, helping each other on and off the field.

“We always talk about it. It’s good to have a friend much more than just a teammate in Theo. A guy who wants to see you do well,’’ Abdullah said. “… That’s such a dream connection. We understand we’re only as good as when we’re on the field together both healthy.’’

Five things to know about Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford as he prepares for Arizona Cardinals

Benching against Cardinals 2 years ago not a factor

ALLEN PARK >> Matthew Stafford played probably the worst game of his career on Oct. 11, 2015, in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the team the Detroit Lions will face on Sunday in their season opener at Ford Field.

That day, Stafford had thrown a pair of interceptions by half-time and coach Jim Caldwell told him, he’d be benched if he threw one more. Indeed he did and Dan Orlovsky took the field.

“Just tough start as a team, myself included. Didn’t play well enough. Not a good feeling obviously but like you said, a lot’s happened since then so I feel good about where we are now,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday.

He’s played well since, but doesn’t think the benching played a part in that.

“I think that game was in itself its own game like every game is. I don’t sit back and go into this week and go, ‘Man, for 27 weeks, man, I’ve played pretty darn good ball. Looks like I’m going to play good again this week.’ You’ve got to earn it every week and that’s just how I go about it,’’ Stafford said.

That game is not a concern at all for Caldwell who seemed surprised that anyone even brought up the subject.

Five things to know about Stafford as the Lions prepare for the Cardinals this time around:

1. The quarterback, entering his ninth season, likes the roster depth. “We have guys at a lot of positions that can help us. I think all the way up and down the line, maybe more so than we ever have,’’ Stafford said. “I’m obviously extremely excited about all the guys that are going to be in there with the first-string guys. I think we’ve got a very talented team in that way too. But we’ve done a nice job of building some depth whether it’s through free agency or the draft.”

2. He said preparing for the Cardinals’ defense is not easy. “They’re obviously unique in their scheme and play a guy that’s 210 pounds at linebacker (Deone Bucannon) and he flies around and blows up plays in the back field and plays a lot bigger than he is,’’ Stafford said. “And like you said, guys in the secondary, you know, ball hawks out there, 21 (Patrick Peterson) and 32 (Tyrann Mathieu), have done it for years. And some of the other guys that are maybe new to the team this year or new to their role, are playing really well too. And then they have guys that can rush the passer really at all spots up front. So, they do a really nice job, traditionally have been a very good defense, and don’t expect to see anything different.”

3. The Cardinals finished 2016 with a league leading 48 sacks and they cover with speed. Stafford calls that a good recipe. “They’ve got guys that can play man coverage and just make it tough on you as an offense. Play man coverage and really create one-on-one matchups in the pass protection schemes as well,’’ Stafford said. “So, they’re about creating one-on-ones and betting that their guys are going to win more one-on-ones than you are and that’s a challenge, a fun one. As an offense, you enjoy those challenges.”

4. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians holds the utmost respect for Stafford. “I’ve always been a big, big, huge fan of Matthew. I think he has one of the best arms in the business. He can make every single throw, he’s tough as nails,’’ Arians said in a conference call. “Just watching him stay in the same system, that’s most young quarterbacks — they get to stay in the same system with the same coaches and you see them improve.’’

5. Stafford knows that his play will help determine the Lions’ success or lack of it. “I’m a quarterback. In this league, you probably get more credit when you play well and more blame when you don’t as a team, so I feel extremely responsible for the way this team goes,’’ Stafford said. “And I know that. I’ve felt that way for, going into my ninth year now. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. The quarterback in the league is an extremely important part of the team. And part of that role isn’t just going out and playing well on Sundays, it’s helping our team prepare throughout the week and getting us into the right frame of mind and readiness to play.”