Lions, Cardinals see better days after awful 2012Posted: Updated:
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- A miserable 2012 season hit its low point for the Detroit Lions the last time they ventured into the desert. That 38-10 victory on Dec. 16 was the only win in the last 12 games for the Arizona Cardinals.
The teams meet again on Sunday with evidence that better days have arrived.
The Lions have added Reggie Bush, and the versatile running back had a big debut in Detroit's 34-24 season-opening victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Arizona lost its opener at St. Louis 27-24, but new coach Bruce Arians and new quarterback Carson Palmer put a vastly improved offense on the field in a game the Cardinals led 24-13 in the fourth quarter.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had probably his worst game of the season last year in Arizona, throwing three interceptions with no TDs.
"It was just a bad day," he said.
Here are five things to watch when the Lions and Cardinals meet.
MEGATRON VS. DOUBLE-P: Few teams defend Detroit's Calvin Johnson one-on-one, but ever-confident cornerback Patrick Peterson says he relishes the challenge.
"You have to watch what you wish for," Arians said with a smile. "I think an elite player like Patrick, in my opinion who is probably the best cornerback in the league, is going against the best receiver in the league. Do we want to leave him out there one-on-one all day? No. But that's going to happen. He's going to have to win his share of battles."
Johnson's statistics in the opener were unimpressive by his high standards - four catches for 37 yards. But they're misleading, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said.
"He had two touchdowns that were literally reviewed" and taken away, Schwartz said, "and if he has those two, then it's a megatron game."
DEALING WITH SUH AND FAIRLEY: Arizona's offensive line is the team's biggest question mark, and it struggled against the Rams.
Left tackle Levi Brown had a particularly tough day, allowing Robert Quinn to rush off the edge for three sacks, one of which forced a fumble.
This week, the challenge for the line is primarily up the middle where Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley work. Arians calls them the best defensive tackle tandem in the league.
Suh finds himself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons again, drawing a $100,000 fine from the NFL for a low block against the Vikings. The call negated a Detroit touchdown. Suh is appealing the fine and says he isn't about to change his aggressive style of play.
"I'm going to always play tough, hard," he said. "That's the way I was brought up at Nebraska."
CONTAINING REGGIE: Bush brings a new dynamic to the Detroit offense and it's a major challenge for Arizona.
"The three-dimensional back is, to me, the best," Arians said. "Reggie is a solid pass protector, too. He's an outstanding runner, and he's not just an outside runner. He's made his living between the tackles, but as a receiver, he's probably one of the top in the league."
Arizona's inside linebackers, sorely missing the suspended Daryl Washington, have had trouble covering backs out of the backfield.
PALMER TO FITZGERALD: Fitzgerald had just four touchdown catches all of last season, but he had two in the season opener, a 4-yarder and a 25-yarder.
They are the kind of plays that seldom occurred as the Cardinals sputtered with four different starting quarterbacks a year ago.
"I'm pretty sure him and the quarterback are very comfortable together," Lions safety Louis Delmas said, "and I'm pretty sure he appreciates his quarterback a lot more this year."
PRESSURE THE QUARTERBACK: The Lions did in their opener, the Cardinals didn't.
Detroit sacked Minnesota's Christian Ponder three times while Stafford was sacked just once. Palmer was sacked four times, fumbling the ball away on one of them. Arizona didn't have a sack and rarely even pressured Sam Bradford.
Expect to see more of Cardinals outside linebacker John Abraham, whose 122 career sacks are most among active players. He was in on only 20 plays against the Rams.
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AP sports writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report
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