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The 30-12 win by the Lions, who were 13.5-point underdogs, marked the first time in NFL history a double-digit underdog won a game outright by double digits. Detroit did so by dominating nearly every facet of the game from the opening drives.
Here are a few next-day takeaways from the Lions Week 15 win over the Cardinals.
Lions run offense was a complete mismatch (in a good way)
It’s not often that a 1-win team has a decided advantage over a 10-win team, but the Lions rushing offense matched up very well against the Cardinals run defense on paper, even before the game. Arizona ranked near the bottom in yards-per-carry allowed, while the Lions sported a top-10 run offense per carry.
Yards per carry is a much more telling metric than total rushing yards. Teams that fall behind a lot can’t run the ball as much, and teams playing with bigger leads don’t face as many runs, which greatly skews the gross yardage totals. But being efficient with the run is something the Lions do well, even without Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift in the backfield. Craig Reynolds established the run from the get-go, and the Cardinals just couldn’t stop it.
A lot of credit goes to the offensive line. Right tackle Penei Sewell, right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and left tackle Taylor Decker all had dominant games in the run-blocking department, and center Evan Brown and fill-in left guard Tommy Kraemer did a fine job creating openings. Reynolds’ attacking, downhill style was a perfect way to attack a speed-based, reactionary Cardinals run defense.
The fact the Lions defense kept the Cardinals from scoring and disrupting the smartly conceived game plan around Reynolds allowed the ground-based Lions offense to thrive. Even when the Cardinals were selling out to stop the run (and the clock) late, Reynolds and the guys up front still found some success.
Hats off to the Harris's
(AP Photo/Jose Juarez)
With a defensive roster depleted by injuries and illness, coordinator Aaron Glenn desperately needed someone to step up. A few Lions players answered the challenge, but two in particular really stood out: linebacker Charles Harris and cornerback Will Harris.
That’s right. Cornerback Will Harris. Heretofore an underwhelming (to be kind) safety, Harris was forced to play outside CB against the Cardinals due to massive attrition at the position. And the experiment borne of desperation worked.
Harris used his speed and size very adeptly in coverage. With Amani Oruwariye locking down top target A.J. Green, Harris wound up facing a lot of different styles of receivers. He did give up some completions but quickly terminated the plays. Harris’ pass breakup in the end zone helped preserve the win.
Will Harris got some help from Charles (no relation) up front. It was an outstanding performance in both run and pass defense by the former first-round flop. Charles Harris was everywhere. He consistently won as a pass rusher but did so in a way that didn’t give speedy QB Kyler Murray any obvious escape routes or open looks.
Two plays really stood out:
A backside pursuit chase down of RB Chase Edmonds where Harris knifed across the formation and brought Edmonds down from behind. If he doesn’t make that tackle, Edmonds has a likely potential TD. The Cardinals settled for a field goal instead.
An early tackle-for-loss on slippery WR Rondale Moore where Harris outsmarted the blocking and made a very impressive open-field tackle on third down. It’s another play where if Harris doesn’t make it, the Cardinals are in big business offensively.
Jared Goff was the better, tougher quarterback
Kyler Murray has been touted as a potential MVP candidate for the Cardinals. A couple of missed games cooled his chances, but it wasn’t for a lack of consistently great play.
Jared Goff has, uh, not exactly been an MVP-caliber quarterback in his first season in Detroit. More often than not, Goff has looked very much like the guy the Rams couldn’t wait to rid themselves of. But on Sunday, Goff was the superior quarterback.
Outside of a couple of early throws where Goff’s delivery was a count late, his ball placement and accuracy were exemplary. Goff continued his recent trend toward being more aggressive in attacking down the field, and he continues to wear it well.
While Murray struggled under pressure from the Lions defense, Goff handled the Cardinals rush with poise and toughness. He didn’t panic, he didn’t check down needlessly, he didn’t run into even more pressure. Meanwhile, the much more mobile Murray did all those things, appearing overly impacted by the Detroit defense and discombobulated without his top target, WR DeAndre Hopkins.
Since Dan Campbell took more control over the offensive design (with a heavy nod to TE coach Ben Johnson), Goff has progressively played better. He’s also learning to trust his receivers and his offensive line, and it’s paying off nicely for the Lions offense.
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
A few one-line observations:
Amon-Ra St. Brown’s attention to detail on his pass routes continues to improve
Godwin Igwebuike’s issues will ball security make it tough to justify keeping him active once Jamaal Williams and/or D’Andre Swift return to the lineup
Evan Brown continues to prove he’s a capable NFL starting center. His pass protection was better than his Cardinals counterpart
Rookie LB Derrick Barnes did not play well for the second week in a row. He’s a step slow in space and it’s problematic. Every rose has its thorn…
Kicker Riley Patterson remains pleasantly stress-free
I loved how DC Aaron Glenn deployed speedy LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin. The aggressive “Kyler spy” role for lack of a better term was a wrinkle the Cardinals could not handle. Nice to have No. 44 back in the lineup.
Will Harris honoring injured Jerry Jacobs with the rookie’s seat belt celebration was a great show of respect.