By Ashley Scoby
The Lions’ defense had on Monday, by most accounts, one of its best outings all season.
Against Seattle, it allowed 397 yards and only 13 points – the lowest amount a team has scored against Detroit all year. The defense scored Detroit’s only touchdown against the Seahawks, after Ezekiel Ansah scooped up Russell Wilson’s fumble and took it to the end zone. And the Lions were one fumble and no-call away from scoring late and actually winning their first game, thanks in large part to the defense’s strong performance.
But even with that defensive progress, the going doesn’t get much easier as the Lions attempt to bounce back from yet another controversial loss in primetime. The 3-1 Cardinals come to Ford Field Sunday, toting eight-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald and a rejuvenated Carson Palmer leading their offense. Arizona is third in the league in total offense, sixth in passing yardage and 11th in rushing yardage – a tough task for a Detroit defense that still is hanging out at the bottom of the NFL in yards allowed this season (25th).
As if that weren’t enough, Arizona also converts all those yards into points: The Cardinals have scored more points (148) than any other team in the NFL this season.
“The line is doing a good job of protecting for Carson, and Carson is delivering the ball,” said Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. “They have speed; they have some speed with John Brown. They have speed and size with (Michael) Floyd. They have Fitz who can run the middle of the field and beat you on the overs, so they have lots of different ways to get the ball deep and I think that’s the key.”
Fitzgerald, who once had five straight seasons of 1,000 yards or more of production, has fallen slightly from that rate. He’s been held under 800 yards for the season two out of the last three years. But to those charged with defending him, he’s still the same old Larry Fitzgerald.
“He’s always been consistent,” said Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis. “Maybe they struggled a year or two, I don’t know, as a whole. But he’s always been a consistent guy. He’s always been a consistent receiver. That never stopped.”
Although the Lions have played against solid offensive attacks in all four weeks this season, they’ve allowed fewer and fewer points each week: 33 against the Chargers in Week 1, then 26 against the Vikings, 24 against the Broncos and 13 against Seattle.
Keeping the Cardinals contained will be a tough project for Detroit. But containment, to Austin, isn’t enough.
“We want to stop people. That’s our mindset,” he said. “I think if you start going with the bend, don’t break (mentality), you start accepting the fact that people can beat you, people can score and people can move the ball on you, and that’s not what we want. … We want to play excellent defense and that’s our goal.”
And while the win column and the rankings within the league may not show it, the Lions have gotten closer and closer to that mark as the season has continued.
“We’re probably, in terms of coverages, maybe a little bit different coverage-wise, a little bit different pressure package and that’s the things that we’ve been doing,” Austin said of the defense’s progression. “So we’ll just continue to evolve, try to play to our players’ strengths and what they do well and hopefully we continue to improve.”