Five things to know about Lions stunning win over Cardinals

It wasn’t just the biggest win of the Detroit Lions’ season, it was a statement, even though coach Dan Campbell wouldn’t call it that.

The Arizona Cardinals (10-4) , arguably one of the NFL’s best teams, had not lost on the road this season. But on Sunday that record fell as the Lions (2-11-1) stunned the Cardinals, 30-12, at Ford Field.

No one gave the Lions much of a chance to win with a few big exceptions including Detroit’s coaches and players. 

“We knew we could win this game, we feel like that every week. We knew we could but we knew we had to play a certain type of game,like any week if we can execute the game plan,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “… We knew to win this game it was going to be a dogfight and it was going to come down probably to the last possession. Well it didn’t this time. I don’t see it as a statement. In this league anybody can win, anybody can lose. I know this, our guys were prepared and that was a good win.’’

That’s a bit of an understatement. It was a full team win in all three phases. Glimpses have been shown all season of the possibilities, but it’s been tough to put them together for wins. Sunday may have been a look into the future.

Five things to know about Sunday’s win:

1. Campbell and GM Brad Holmes have had a game plan to build a team with high character players. The coach thinks it showed on Sunday. “We’ve got the right guys, we really do. And as far as guys you want character wise and what they’re made of. We don’t have guys who are worried about themselves or complaining about this or it’s somebody else’s fault,’’ Campbell said. “We have guys who just want results and how can I help? That always gives you a chance.’’

2. Aside from character, the win was what they have been trying to achieve all season. “I’d say it was a lot closer. To be able to feel like you have control of the game. They were playing our game, we weren’t playing theirs,’’ Campbell said. “That’s what we need to be able to do.” The Lions got the ball first and ate 8:50 off the clock on a drive that ended with a field goal. The defense held the Cardinals to three-and-out, then the Lions came back with a drive finishing with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown very early in the second quarter. So it was 10-0 to start. That’s key. Plus they just held on. They didn’t know they weren’t supposed to win.

3. Jared Goff had his best day in a Lions uniform, throwing for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. “He made some outstanding throws today. The first one to St. Brown was unbelievable, he had to step up, release it quick. The throw to (Josh) Reynolds right before halftime, a huge play,’’ Campbell said of the 22-yard touchdown pass. “(Goff) got us the right play, I thought he maneuvered well, he took some hits, he bounced back. I thought he played outstanding.’’

4. The losing season has tested Goff but he said his love of the game kept driving him. “It does test you and that way it has strengthened. Then you win a game today against arguably the best team in the league. On paper we don’t match up with them, on paper we don’t,’’ Goff said. It was next man up at so many positions.Goff mentioned safety Will Harris who played corner. Running back Craig Reynolds who got his second start and rushed for 112 yards. The offensive line has been playing musical chairs all season due to injuries. But on Sunday, everyone who played executed his job and it showed.

5. The Lions defense was phenomenal. (Don’t think I’ve typed that sentence in many years). The Cardinals didn’t score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter. They didn’t pick up a first down until the second quarter. Campbell said he couldn’t find the right words for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn who put together a masterful gameplan especially considering he was without so many key players. Linebacker Charles Harris was on fire with 1.5 sacks, a dozen tackles, three tackles for loss and a partridge in a pear tree. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye’s interception in the fourth quarter set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jason Cabinda on the next play. Campbell said those two plays shifted the momentum back to the Lions who held a 24-3 lead at that point.

NEXT UP: Detroit Lions at Atlanta on Sunday, Dec. 26, at 1 p.m.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to know about the Lions-Cardinals matchup

The good thing for Lions coach Dan Campbell is that he has experienced an unusual number of tough challenges in his first season. 

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. At least that’s what they say.

Campbell is in for another tough battle on Sunday when the injury-depleted Lions (1-10-1) face the Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at Ford Field at 1 p.m.

The COVID uptick across the league has affected the Lions, but not enough to delay the game.

“Yeah, there is concern, but there is nothing we can do about it. I mean, we’re doing all we can do to prepare for a game. You guys know COVID and football don’t go together,’’ Campbell said. “So, as far as how everybody is dealing with it, we do the best we can with it and we’re trying to keep our guys as safe as possible, but also prepare. We’re trying to be as smart as we can about it.”

Here are five things to know about the matchup:

1. The Cardinals, who are atop the NFC West, have won all seven of their road games this season. “It’s very impressive. They can jump on you in a hurry and then when they do, it takes a lot of pressure off of what you do for them defensively and offensively. I mean, you can open up Pandora’s box because you feel like – and I know defensively, look (Cardinals Defensive Coordinator) Vance Joseph does a hell of a job and he’s got multiple looks, multiple personnels, multiple pressure looks, but it also helps when you know you feel like you can score at will and now, you can really just do whatever you want,’’ Campbell said. “That puts a lot of pressure on teams, and so they work hand in hand, they complement each other well over there, O, D and special teams. And so, you look at it as a challenge. It’s a challenge for most teams, but I think you’ve got to try to make them play your game a little bit if you can.”

2. The lengthy injury list has given others a chance to prove themselves. “That’s a silver lining in all of this and that’s kind of the bright spot is that you are finding out about a lot of these guys that have been backups or have been on the practice squad,’’ Campbell said. “Ultimately, you don’t always know until you throw them into the fire and then you find out about some guys who normally have not had that opportunity like we have. But, we have because of different circumstances and that is a positive. You find out, ‘Do you move forward with these guys? Do you keep them around or are we looking to upgrade? Are these guys we can count on?’ And so forth.”

3. The final four games are important to Campbell. “Look, I think you’re continuing to try to improve on what you do. Like, for example, I feel like our receivers are really coming on over the last three weeks, three to four weeks,’’ Campbell said. “Particularly, these last two weeks I feel like they’re doing some real good things. We’re getting a lot more crisp, a lot more detailed, those guys are making plays. And so, I’m encouraged. I feel like it’s not as cloudy as maybe it was before. You’re starting to see things a little better.’’

4. Campbell was asked this week how much he is paying attention to Michigan and Oregon due to their potential top draft talent. He snapped back, “Zero.” Get this straight, he remains focused on getting this team to improve. He was asked again a few days later.  “Is the draft within the next day or so? Because I would be very interested,’’ Campbell said. “But right now, no, and I really don’t. That’s (Executive Vice President and General Manager) Brad (Holmes)’s department right now. I’m so focused on what we have here and getting prepared for Arizona to be honest with you.”

5. Injuries play a huge role like they have all season. Julian Okwara (ankle) and RB D’Andre Swift (shoulder) are out. In case you missed it TE T.J. Hockenson is out for the rest of the season after deciding to undergo hand surgery. Also, questionable to play are Alex Anzalone (ankle), Michael Brockers (knee), Will Holden (not an injury), Jonah Jackson (back), Josh Reynolds (thigh) and Jaylen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder).

PREDICTION: Cardinals 42, Lions 17

Five things to know as Lions face Broncos

Coming off their first win of the season, the Lions (1-10-1) face the Broncos (6-6) at Denver. Outbreaks of the flu and COVID have been the biggest factors in the preparations so far this week.

Still coach Dan Campbell looks to build on the success against the Vikings last week. He’s got a young bunch and he can see them developing on and off the field. 

“Those young guys, they gravitate towards (Michael) Brockers in the D-line room and it pays off, you can see it. They’re more about business. They understand what to look for. They don’t even know what they’re looking at and just how you handle it. Same thing with (Alex) Anzalone and (Jalen) Reeves-Maybin with (Derrick) Barnes,’’ Campbell said. “It’s just kind of, ‘This is the way you do it. This is what you’re looking at. This is how you prepare.’ So yeah, I do. I think these guys are – I think they’re growing because we’ve got some good guys around them that are helping them grow.”

Denver, has lost two of its last three, including last Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs.

Five things to look for against the Broncos:

1. The Lions have to take proactive measures due to Denver’s altitude especially with so many players missing practice this week with the flu and COVID. Hydration and rest are key. Injuries and illness will play a huge role for the Lions. Running back D’Andre Swift (shoulder), LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) and OLB Julian Okwara (ankle) will not play. Tight end T..J. Hockenson (hand) is doubtful. Then a dozen are questionable — eight of them with the flu or COVID which has proven to be a battle this week. 

2. The Lions and the NFL have strict COVID protocols so traveling will not change due to the spread this week. “The beauty of the way we travel anyway because of the COVID restrictions and everything, we’re pretty good about just the way we do it. I mean, everyone has to wear a mask, we all get tested as normal,’’ Campbell said. “I think if anything, what we may do is huddle a few of these guys up that are already feeling like crummy or coming back from it and just make sure they are kind of isolated if you will. But we’ll travel properly and be good.”

3. Campbell continues to improve on his offensive play calling. Jared Goff complimented after the win last week.  The coach said he gets most of his ideas from watching tape. “You just watch and you’re like, ‘Oh man, this looks pretty good.’ And so, you scribble an idea down and most of the time, for me, I’ll have thoughts down, ‘Hey, I want to do this.’ But then, there will be a ton of stuff where I just have a general idea like, ‘Man, look at this. Look at what the corner does on this or the nickel.’’’ Then he brings the ideas to his coaching staff and see if they can make them work. “(New Orleans Saints Head Coach) Sean (Payton) was that way a little bit. He would have real good thoughts, but sometimes you just had to have some direction to it. You needed somebody else’s input to kind of make it the way you wanted it to be or what you thought would really work or that was sound,’’ Campbell said.

4. It is becoming obvious that Jared Goff is more willing to take shots downfield. There’s a reason for that. “I’ve said it, he’s a trust guy. If he trusts you, he will give you an opportunity. I think he’s starting to have more confidence in the people around him and I think you’re going to see more shots down the field because of that, and it’s intentional,’’ offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. “We want to push the ball down the field. It’s been taught in the classrooms of pushing the ball down the field. Dan (Campbell), (tight ends coach) Ben Johnson is working with the passing game more and the timing of it, getting the ball out of your hands and not worrying about turning the ball over. Just let it fly. All of those discussions we’ve had.”

5. Game-planning against the Broncos’ offense, led by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, presents challenges. “I’ll tell you what, when you look at the skill players of this offense, I want to say it is probably better than last week’s, which is crazy because they do have two backs (Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams) that can really cause problems. And then, you look at the stats of those two guys breaking more tackles than any back tandem in the League, that tells you one thing of how we’ve got to make sure we operate,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “Then you look at the big receivers that are creating plays down the field and then having (Jerry Jeudy) who came back. He’s a guy that can move the chains for them. He was a really big-time receiver at Alabama and came to this League. And, he’s taking over the slot for the most part. And, I told our guys already, ‘This is a challenge for us. This could be a better offense than we had last week, so we’ve got to make sure we’re up for it.’”

PREDICTION: Broncos 27, Lions 17