Lions and Cardinals look to bounce back from disappointment
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Lions finally get a chance to bounce back from a year they would like to forget.
The Arizona Cardinals , likewise, are looking forward to moving on from a disappointing year.
Detroit closed the 2016 regular season with three setbacks, including the finale at home against Green Bay, to fall out of first place in the NFC North. That wasted an opportunity for the franchise to win a division title for the first time since 1993. The slide sent the Lions from potentially having a home playoff game at Ford Field to a road game in Seattle, where they extended a postseason losing streak to eight since the 1991 playoffs.
The Cardinals were 7-8-1 last year, a big step back from the previous three seasons, when they averaged more than 11 wins in the regular season and won a total of three playoff games under Bruce Arians.
Here are five things to watch Sunday when the Lions kick off their season at home against Arizona:
HIT ’EM HIGH: Detroit safety Glover Quin may have shared a secret to Larry Fitzgerald’s ability to miss just six games over his 13-year career with the Cardinals. Quin, who has played against Fitzgerald four times, said the standout receiver asks defenders to stay away from his knees and to hit him high.
“He’ll tell you, ‘I’ll pay you for the fine,’” Quin said.
Fitzgerald led the league with 107 catches last year, a season after having a career-high 109 receptions. Beyond him, the Cardinals are not sure what to expect from their receivers. Jaron Brown, the No. 2 receiver, is coming off knee surgery. John Brown was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2015 before being slowed last season by what was diagnosed as a sickle cell trait. He had a cyst in his back drained early in the offseason and proclaimed himself healthy. He had a quadriceps injury in the preseason, but was healthy enough to catch a pair of touchdown passes two weeks ago against Atlanta.
PIOVTAL PLAYER: Greg Robinson is looking forward to getting a second chance in Detroit after the Los Angeles Rams gave up on him three years after drafting him No. 2 overall and starting him in 42 games. The Lions acquired Robinson in June after losing Taylor Decker indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
“I’m more comfortable, but I can’t say I have everything down pat,” Robinson said.
The Lions will find out very soon how good Robinson is — or isn’t — at protecting Matthew Stafford’s back side. Robinson will likely have to block pass-rushing linebackers such as Markus Golden and Chandler Jones. The duo combined for more than 23 sacks last season, nearly half of the team’s league-high total of 48 sacks.
PROTECTING PALMER: Arizona reshaped its offensive line, hoping to keep 37-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer upright more often. The Cardinals shifted D.J. Humphries from right tackle to left and moved left tackle Jared Veldheer to the right.
“That changes things up pretty drastically for those two guys,” Palmer acknowledged.
The Cardinals appear concerned with their offensive line because they signed former San Francisco and Minnesota starting guard Alex Boone to a one-year deal Tuesday.
WHAT A RUSH: David Johnson, the No. 86 overall pick in 2015, has a tough act to follow with the Cardinals. He led the league with 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns, turning into an NFL star as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.
“He could go out and start at wide receiver for just about anybody in the league,” Arians said.
The Lions have been among the NFL’s worst on the ground the last three years, but they are confident that part of their offense will improve if two players stay healthy. Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are assets in the running and passing games if they can stay on the field. Abdullah injured his left foot in the second game of last season and didn’t play again. Riddick missed five games with a wrist injury and was limited to appearing in 10 games.
DYNAMIC D: The Cardinals can rush the passer as well as any team in the league and they can cover very well, too, with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu leading the secondary.
“That’s a good recipe right there,” Stafford lamented.
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