It’s been 20 years since the Lions last won in the desert, and a lot of things have changed.
The Phoenix Cardinals are now the Arizona Cardinals. Since Jason Hanson retired after last season, none of the current Lions players were around then. Heck, the Lions’ leading tackler in 1993 was Chris Spielman. He’s been retired for more than a decade.
Road woes are nothing new for Detroit, either, and the current group of Lions get that. It’s why winning in Arizona, breaking a six-game road losing streak there spanning the past 20 years, is a big deal.
For multiple reasons.
“I don’t want us to have the label of being a team that needs to come back late in the game, late in the season,” Lions receiver Nate Burleson said. “I want us to create a habit of starting fast. That’s on the grand scheme of things, each quarter, each game in the season.
“I don’t want us to have to fight in December, everybody is panicking, pulling out their hair, when we had opportunities early in the year to put ourselves in position to relax throughout the year.”
A win in Arizona, on the longest road trip of the season for Detroit, would help.
Here are four keys for the Lions to pull it off.
1.Have Calvin Johnson replicate his performance a year ago. Johnson went up against Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson and caught 10 passes for 121 yards. Yes, the Lions were crushed in that game, 38-10, but finding Johnson a few times early will force Arizona to make a similar choice as Minnesota a week ago -- defend the deep ball or guard the underneath routes for Reggie Bush. This is the dilemma of opposing defenses this season. Keeping Johnson busy could also help prevent Peterson from playing offense as well as defense.
2.Pressure Carson Palmer's blind side. Sure, this could be a key every week, but Palmer doesn’t have the speed of some of the league’s other quarterbacks. When he was asked this week about running any read-option, his answer was succinct: “No.” So attacking left tackle Levi Brown and left guard Daryn Colledge early in the game and getting some hurries on Palmer should disrupt the Arizona offense. The Cardinals like to go deep, and that could give the Detroit defensive line an extra second or two to pressure the veteran Palmer into mistakes.
3.Stay consistent on the offensive line. Perhaps the biggest surprise last week was the way the Detroit offensive line played. It didn’t allow a sack against a defensive line featuring Jared Allen, and blocked well for the run with Bush and Joique Bell able to consistently gain positive yardage. If the Detroit line can give Matthew Stafford three seconds a play to throw the ball, he could end up having a huge day.
4.Help out the Detroit cornerbacks. Arizona has a strong receiving tandem in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, so don’t be surprised if the Lions scheme to help the cornerbacks with the two deep threats. Rookie Darius Slay had an up-and-down debut against Minnesota before being replaced by veteran Rashean Mathis in the fourth quarter. This is a test for Slay. If he is able to play well against the Cardinals’ deep-threat passing game, it could be a big confidence boost for him down the road. Pay attention to Slay’s matchup early. He has the skills, but doesn’t have the experience yet.