The Detroit Lions host the Arizona Cardinals (10-3) today at Ford Field. The Cardinals are fighting to regain the No. 1 seed in the NFC after dropping from the top spot to No. 3 with a loss to the Los Angeles Rams Monday night.
Arizona will be highly motivated to not have a letdown in Detroit today, while the Lions try to play the role of spoiler and affect the NFC playoff picture from the outside.
Here are five things to watch out for in today's contest:
1. UNDERMANNED SECONDARY
The Lions have been decimated by injuries and COVID-19 cases in their secondary. The NFL altered some of their return-to-play protocols involving COVID-19 positive cases this week, and the Lions activated Ifeatu Melifonwu, Tracy Walker and Bobby Price from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday. Walker (illness) is questionable to play Sunday.
Still, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said this week he's not using injuries or COVID-19 as an excuse not to play well in the secondary today. He said everyone who's in the meeting room, who's been coached up and cashes a check is expected to come in and perform.
Arizona comes in ranked fourth in points scored (28.2), ninth in total offense (374.8) and 10th in passing (252.2), though they will be without All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who's dealing with a knee injury.
2. CONTAINING MURRAY
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is one of the most dynamic players in the league, and the Lions will have to be very disciplined in the way they rush him today. Detroit's defense has to play gap sound and can't allow Murray to break containment and get into space, where he's dangerous because of his ability to run and throw one of the better deep balls.
"He's accurate outside the pocket," Glenn said. "He can make these off-platform throws. Then his ability to escape pressure and make plays. That's what he is, he's a quarterback that's an athlete that can make plays all over the field, not just with his arm, but with his feet, also."
The Lions had a really good plan Week 3 for Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, containing the former league MVP for the most part. Expect Glenn to try to use some of the same concepts and apply them in this today's matchup against Murray. Keeping Murray in the pocket and making him a passer only is proven to be best way to contain him.
3. ENCORE PERFORMANCE
With D'Andre Swift sitting out a third straight game and Jamaal Williams still on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, the Lions will turn to Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike at running back today.
Reynolds made his Lions debut last week after spending the first 13 weeks of the season on the practice squad. He rushed 11 times for 83 yards and was the highest graded running back by Pro Football Focus in Week 14. Lions coaches and players said this week they weren't surprised by that performance at all because they've seen it from him in practice all year long.
Don't be surprised if Reynolds is the first back on the field today, with Jefferson and Igwebuike in the mix too.
4. RECEIVER MOMENTUM
The trust is building between quarterback Jared Goff and his receiving corps, especially with rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown and veteran Josh Reynolds.
St. Brown has 18 catches over his last two games. Goff said this week St. Brown is starting to become a security blanket pass catcher for him in the slot. The two have worked out some timing issues they were having earlier in the year, and they have some good chemistry going right now. St. Brown is the first rookie in franchise history to have back-to-back games with seven-plus catches. Can he make it three in a row?
Reynolds, who played with Goff in Los Angeles, has quickly built back some of the chemistry they had playing with the Rams. Over the last three weeks, Reynolds is averaging 19.1 yards per reception with 50-plus receiving yards in all three contests. He's added a vertical element this receiving corps the Lions' offense desperately needed.
Can Goff and the receivers continue to make plays in the passing game today against a Cardinals' defense that ranks fifth in the NFL against the pass?
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
5. ROAD WARRIORS
It's tough to win in this league, and it's particularly difficult to win on the road, but don't tell the Cardinals that. Arizona is looking to go 8-0 on the year on the road with a win in Detroit. Their first seven victories away from State Farm Stadium were all by 10 points or more.
The Cardinals are explosive on offense, stingy on defense and play solid special teams. There's really not a weakness on their roster. They can run the ball and stop the run, and that travels anywhere.
The last time the Lions were at home they secured their first win of the season, 29-27, over the Vikings. Detroit will be looking for more home cooking this week as they try to play the spoiler role and break Arizona's road winning streak.