O'Hara's Friday Focus: Can the Lions make a statement with a road win at Arizona?

Posted Sep 13, 2013

On paper, the Lions appear better than the Cardinals in most categories ... the question is whether they can execute on Sunday

It is never too early to feel a sense of urgency, whether it’s a play, in a game or an entire season.

Nate Burleson feels a sense of urgency among his Lions teammates to avoid getting caught in the trap that has shackled them too often in the past.

There were signs in last week’s 34-24 victory over the Vikings of repeating their old fault of living on the edge – and falling off – by getting behind and finding themselves in panic mode. Even though the Lions dominated most of the game, they faced a 14-6 deficit in the first three minutes of the second quarter.

The Lions want to build on last week’s victory with a better performance in Sunday’s road game against the Arizona Cardinals. A 2-0 start would be a good springboard for the start of the season.

"It would be huge," Burleson said. "I’m not going to downplay it all. I want to win this game badly, just like every week.

"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. I want us to create a habit of starting fast. That’s in the grand scheme of things -- each quarter, each game in the season.

"I don’t want us to have to fight in December, everybody panicked, pulling out their hair, when we had opportunities early in the season to put us in position."

December will arrive soon enough. For this week, this Friday Focus looks back at how the Lions’ blunders gave the Cardinals a lopsided victory last year, with a look at key stats, a Cardinals player in the spotlight, and what Cardinals coach Bruce Arians considers a strength of the team.

The Lions and Cardinals both were in collapse mode when they met in Game 14. Arizona was on a nine-game losing streak and on the way to a 5-11 record. The Lions had lost five straight and lost again, 38-10, with what probably was their worst performance of the season.

In last week’s opening games, the Lions did to the Vikings what the Cardinals could not do in a road loss to St. Louis – finish strong.

The Lions outscored the Vikings, 28-10, after facing that 14-6 deficit. Arizona had a 24-13 lead and couldn’t score again in a 27-24 loss.

To play off Burleson’s "grand scheme" analogy, there should be bigger games ahead for the Lions – but only if they can maintain their focus from week to week. They have an overall advantage over the Cardinals in most areas, but they have to prove it with performance.

That means the defensive line dominating up front, the offense repeating the balance of running and passing that it displayed against the Vikings and solid play on special teams.

It also means cutting down on penalties – something the Lions have yet to show any inclination to accomplish.

"We have to play our game," Burleson said. "If we don’t, it could be a similar result to last year.

"We’re in a good place right now. Guys aren’t too light. We’re not too tight. With how we played last week, getting the victory, knowing that there are so many screws we can still tighten up, there’s a lot to look forward to in this season."

Nothing is ever easy for the Lions, and Sunday’s game won’t be. It shouldn’t be a defining game, but it will provide an early barometer on the team’s character and will.

My pick for Sunday: Lions 23, Cardinals 21.

Nothing says it has to be easy.

History: The Lions have a 31-25-5 series lead but have a four-game losing streak to the Cardinals and six straight on the road. Their last road win was Dec. 12, 1993.

Last game (2012) review: The Lions played giveaway in a 38-10 loss in Game 14 against a Cardinals team that had lost five straight going into the game.

The Lions actually had a 7-0 lead early in the third quarter before the giveaway started. The Cardinals scored two TDs on interception returns. Their three offensive TDs came on "drives" of 5, 3 and 29 yards and required a total of only five plays.

It was a disaster in every way for the Lions, and by far their worst game of the season. Matthew Stafford had three passes intercepted. The Lions also lost a fumble and had a TD nullified by a penalty.

Stats pack:

Cardinals ranks: Offense -- run - 16; pass - 10; total - 10; Defense -- rush - 10; pass - 21; total - 17.

Key stats: 4 sacks allowed, 0 sacks on defense, even in turnover ratio.

Lions ranks: Offense -- run - 9; pass - 4; total - 4; Defense -- run - 22; pass - 13; total - 14.

Key stats: 0 sacks allowed, 3 sacks on defense, plus-2 in turnover ratio, 11 penalties committed (league average is 6.8).

Opponent spotlight: From one Peterson to another.

Last week the Lions had to stop Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

On Sunday, they have to beat Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, plus defend him if he returns punts or plays wide receiver.

The Lions did a good job of holding Adrian Peterson in check in last week’s victory, except for one 13-second burst. That’s how long it took him to break a 78-yard run for a TD on Minnesota’s first play. After that, Peterson gained 15 yards on 17 carries but managed to score two more TDs, on a run and a pass reception.

Patrick Peterson is an elite cornerback and one of the NFL’s most talented players at any position. He has made the Pro Bowl in both of his seasons since the Cardinals drafted him fifth overall out of LSU in 2011. He was first team All-Pro as a rookie.

Peterson has gotten some playing time on offense, and it could be increased this season under new head coach Bruce Arians.

"He’s such a playmaker," Arians said. "Once he gets his hands on the ball as a punt returner, he’s so dynamic. He’s the same thing offensively."

As a rookie, Peterson returned four punts for TDs and intercepted two passes. On offense, he caught one pass for minus one yard and ran once for no gain.

Last season he made more impact as a defender, with seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries. He caught three passes for 11 yards and ran twice for 13 yards.

He played three snaps in last week’s loss to the Rams but was not targeted for a pass.

Suh-Fairley: In the offseason Nick Fairley said that he and Ndamukong Suh form the NFL’s best tandem of defensive tackles, and not many people , including Arians, are arguing with that.

Fairley had 1.5 sacks against the Vikings. Suh dominated the interior. His pressure forced Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder into throwing a weak pass that was intercepted.

"Those two interior guys are the best two in the league as a tandem," Arians said. "They can wreak havoc."

The penalty Suh got last week for a low block hasn’t changed Arian’s opinion of him as a player.

"The only thing I judge him on is the tape, and he’s outstanding on tape," Arians said. "All that other stuff, I don’t get caught up with. I was on record last year, I’d rather have him on my team."