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.”

Five things to know as Lions get under way after roster cuts

At least nine new starters expected on Sunday

ALLEN PARK >> It was a little like the first day of school and Christmas combined when the Lions held their first practice after the roster has been cut to 53 men.

On Labor Day, the Lions were back at work preparing for their opener on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field at 1 p.m.

“In particular now because the squad’s reduction in terms of your roster limits, your practices should be more crisp,’’ Caldwell said. “They should be fast, if you got the best of the best out there amongst the group that you choose from, then everything should improve in that regard. So, we’re expecting that to happen. But then also, our crystallization, our focus and things of that nature, should be in place as well.’’

Five things to know as the week of preparation gets under way:

1. Like every year, there’s a big shift in the roster. Some starting roles are uncertain (no depth chart has been released yet) but there will be at least nine guys who didn’t start the final regular season game of 2016. We’ll see new faces at four offensive line positions; no WR Anquan Boldin; also DE Devin Taylor, LB DeAndre Levy, CB Asa Jackson are gone; and punter Sam Martin still out with an injury. “It’s always I think pretty drastic change from one year to the next these days in our game. So, you have to be able to adjust. You got to be able to teach well,’’ Caldwell said. “You got to be able to train. You got to develop. I think those things are important. But we still got core guys that’ll be able to lead the way for us.”

2. Caldwell won’t explain why they kept five running backs instead of four, but he will elaborate on undrafted running back Tion Green. “I think those things are pretty obvious. He’s a guy that’s, he’s coming, he’s growing. He can move well. He’s deceptive in terms of his speed, as you saw the other night,’’ Caldwell said. “But he’s a guy that’s got some power, balance. And he’s been effective in special teams too. So, all those things just in terms of dealing with him in particular.”

3. The coach is excited about this group of guys. “First of all because I think that No. 1, we got a real good core group of guys leading the way for us that have certainly proven that they can play in this league and play well. And then we got a group of young guys that I think are coming that have talent and ability. They just got a little ways to go in terms of learning and developing,’’ Caldwell said. “But I’m excited about this group. I mean this is a good group. So, health’s on our side and where it’s not, we get the next man up playing and doing his job, we’ll be fine. But it’s a great group.”

4. Leadership among players is key to Caldwell. Not just veterans, but a few young guys will be counted on as well. “I think it’s vital. And I think that’s one of the things that you sense with good core leaders that they have to be able to kind of carry that banner for you,’’ Caldwell said. “There is a certain way you want things done. There is a certain type of attitude that you want in terms of preparation and things of that nature. And those are the guys that generally set the tone for you.’’

5. It’s the 40th year of coaching and the 17th in the NFL for Caldwell. His favorite time of year? “Ballgames, obviously. But, I like the preparation leading up to the ballgames even more. Getting guys in position to do what they got to do and the challenge of getting the team ready, that excites me, that’s a lot of fun,’’ Caldwell said. “Because you see during the course of the week that guys look at their opponent, they look at what they have to do, you implement a game plan, and then to go see if you can carry it out. But, it’s the preparation I think more so than anything else.’’

Five reasons Detroit Lions CB Darius Slay loves match-up with Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald

Slay says Fitzgerald can only make him better

ALLEN PARK >>  Lions cornerback Darius Slay can’t wait to face Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday.

Arizona plays Detroit at 1 p.m. at Ford Field in the season opener.

After working against his teammates Golden Tate and Marvin Jones since the spring, Slay can’t wait to go up against guys in different uniforms when it counts.

“I’m looking forward to competing with all the best guys in the league,’’ Slay said after Monday’s practice.

Five reason Slay loves to match up with Fitzgerald:

1. “You know how the game plan goes, I’d be honored to (cover him). One of the best to ever do it,’’ Slay said.  “I just love, everybody looks up to Larry. Fourteen years in the game, takes care of his body. He’s so professional about everything.’’

2. Not only does Slay like the 34-year-old Fitzgerald on the field, he thinks he’s a great guy. ”I’ve met him a couple times. He’s very very great guy. I look forward to going against him,’’ Slay said.

3. “The only thing he’s going to do is make me better,’’ said Slay who is entering his fifth season.

4. Fitzgerald isn’t shy on the field during the game. “For people who don’t know, he kind of corrects you if you’re wrong about something out there on defense. That is how nice of guy he is, that’s good about him. That’s why I love about him,’’ Slay said. “Man. no arguments just friendly fun enjoying the work. Competing, it’s just fun.’’

5. Let’s get into specifics. “One time we was in coverage — I ain’t goin to tell what coverage we was in — we was in the coverage and he told me why he got me and how he knew what it was. So I’m’ like, ‘Dang, you know.’I hope he don’t remember. I hope I don’t refresh his mind remembering that, just in case I might try to do something different,’’ Slay said.

BONUS: Slay said that even if he has perfect coverage, Fitzgerald’s strong hands are tough to beat.