Cardinals ride quick start and strong defense to 14-6 win over Lions
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Assumptions and questions were thrown around all week about the Arizona Cardinals, and if they’d be able to move past the loss of quarterback Carson Palmer and win with Drew Stanton, who had seven career starts [three this season] coming into Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.
Stanton put all the naysayers in their place early on, taking the Cardinals on two consecutive touchdown scoring drives to start the game. In the first quarter alone, Stanton was 8-of-10 for 156 yards and two touchdowns, as the Cardinals had a 14-3 lead.
From then on things changed pretty quickly for Stanton. He threw two interceptions in the second quarter, and the offense got as quiet as a church mouse the rest of the way.
Luckily for Stanton, he has a ferocious defense backing him.
The Cardinals defense harassed Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford all day long and completely took wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate out of the game. As a result, the Cardinals were able to grind out another victory – their sixth straight – this time by a 14-6 margin over the NFC North leading Lions.
With the win, the Cardinals move to 9-1 on the season. It’s the first time they’ve been 9-1 since 1948. As we continue to throw out firsts for the Cardinals, their six straight wins are also a first. It’s the first time since 1977 that the Cardinals have won six straight games.
“It was a great win for us and just solidifies the belief in our locker room that whoever steps in steps up,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “It was a great performance. I thought by far our best start to a football game.”
Stanton was able to hookup with wide receiver Michael Floyd on the two scoring drives, hitting him on a 42-yard score and a 12-yard score.
Stanton says it was huge to be able to come out of the starting gates and put a 14 spot on the league’s top ranked defense.
“To go out there and kind of get an early lead, I think it let everybody take a deep breath,” Stanton said. “At the same time, we’ve got to find a way to sustain drives better. That will come with playing with each other more and being on the same page as we progress each and every week.”
For the game, Stanton was 21-of-32 for 306 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 306 yards were a career high for Stanton.
Arians had no doubt in his mind that Stanton could step up and do the job.
“This is not the first time he [Stanton] jumped out there,” Arians said. “This is his fourth game. He’s 3-1 as a starter and didn’t finish the other [Broncos game].”
“He’s a solid player and we’ve got some huge, huge challenges ahead of us,” Arians said.
Floyd had been relatively quiet over the past couple of weeks, so it was good to see him get some early attention from Stanton and get in the end zone. Floyd hadn’t gotten into the end zone since the Raiders game on October 19, so he was way overdue for a breakout.
Floyd says it was “frustrating” not being able to get the ball over the past few weeks, but he stuck with it in practice and kept his mind right and good things came back to him.
“Practice is where I want to do it at and make sure I do everything right to feel good on Sundays,” Floyd said. “I think this week I made a big emphasis of making sure that Drew [Stanton] is comfortable with me and comfortable with all our wide receivers too.”
Stanton seemed extremely comfortable on Sunday, spreading the ball around to 10 different players, four of them wide receivers.
“Drew [Stanton] likes to make plays happen,” Floyd said. “He’s going to give you a chance to go up and get the ball. We expect every single time that ball is in the air to come down to us and you just make a big play for the team.”
The two interceptions Stanton threw were his first two of the season. Thankfully, the Lions didn’t do much with them. They punted off the first and got a field goal on the second right before the half.
Arizona dodged a major bullet in that regard, but Stanton knows he can’t continue to hand the ball over to the opposition like that.
“You never want to turn the ball over, but again, it’s a testament to that [Cardinals] defense,” Stanton said. “They’re really good at getting the ball in their hands and making plays and they’re aggressive.”
Aggressive might be an understated term to describe what the Cardinals defense did to Stafford and the Lions offense.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson and the “committee” held Johnson and Tate to seven total catches for 100 yards and ZERO touchdowns. That’s as impressive a defensive performance against those two as you’ll ever see.
“Just wanted to be physical like I told you guys earlier throughout the week,” Peterson said. “I wanted to make sure I got my hands on him [Johnson] as much as possible, but I wanted to play within the rules as well.”
“Just wanted to make sure I disrupt that time between him and the quarterback [Stafford], and I feel like I did a pretty good job for that for the majority of the game,” Peterson said.
It had to be defense by committee to corral Stafford, Johnson, Tate and Joique Bell, and the defense did just that. Stafford threw for less than 200 yards and Bell was held under 100 yards. Those kind of numbers come from guys like Peterson on the back end playing tight and it also comes from what seemed like never ending pressure from defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackles Frostee Rucker and Tommy Kelly and linebacker Alex Okafor, who sacked Stafford twice. The defense sacked Stafford a total of four times on Sunday.
“Anytime you play against a good quarterback, you have to get him uncomfortable in the pocket,” Campbell said. “Every quarterback who can really throw the ball, it’s your problem if you don’t make him uncomfortable.”
“Anytime you can hit him a little bit, get him on his back and make him uncomfortable, they start throwing the ball a little quicker sometimes,” Campbell said.
Safety Rashad Johnson picked off Stafford in the third quarter off pressure Kelly put on Stafford. It goes back to the “one mind” the Cardinals have developed since Arians arrived. Their defense is proof positive that that kind of thinking works in the NFL.
“I think that’s what makes this group so great, we trust in each other, we’re really a band of brothers,” Johnson said. “We really enjoy playing with one another. Just looking forward to continue to get better each and every week.”
That “every week” continues next Sunday with a visit to the Pacific Northwest and a showdown with the world champion Seattle Seahawks, who are coming off a tough loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
Seattle will be looking to: 1.) Try and gain ground on the Cardinals, who are three games ahead of them in the NFC West standings, and 2.) Get revenge on Arizona for beating them at CenturyLink Field last year. It was their first loss at home in two years.
“That’s a big, big challenge to go back up there after last year,” Arians said. “They’ll be more than ready. Their backs are to the wall, so we’re going to get their best shot for sure.”
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