FIRST DOWN: DEFENSE CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
The Arizona Cardinals didn't come into Sunday's game as some kind of offensive juggernaut. They ranked last in the NFL in points scored, total offense and passing, and were second to last in rushing. It's been a struggle for them, to put it mildly, but they still have some weapons in running back David Johnson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It was on the Lions to play good football on defense to limit them.
So for the Lions to hold Arizona to only three points means they did exactly what they were supposed to do in Sunday's 17-3 win.
Arizona had under 300 yards of total offense (61 rushing). Johnson rushed for just 49 yards on 15 carries (3.3 average) and caught eight passes for a total of 12 yards. They sacked Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen three times and hit him eight times total.
The defense even put up points with a 67-yard Darius Slay pick six.
Slay (interception, three passes defended), linebacker Jarrad Davis (8 tackles, sack), defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson (8 tackles, sack) and defensive end Romeo Okwara (sack, three quarterback hits) were particularly good for a defense that has played more good football than bad over the last month and a half.
SECOND DOWN: O-LINE COMES THROUGH
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was banged up and nursing a back injury heading into Sunday's game. On top of that, Detroit was without some of its key skill position players due to injury. Then they lost another wide receiver in Bruce Ellington (19 catches last three games) in the first half due to a hamstring injury.
With all that going on, the Lions knew they had to establish some kind of a run game and get a good performance out of their offensive line.
"I thought they did a great job," Stafford said of the offensive line performance Sunday. "It was one of those games where we had to wear them out. They are a good (defensive) front, got some good players up there. That fourth quarter our guys really started leaning on them and it was fun to watch."
The Lions ran for 122 yards in the game, including 42 yards by running back Zach Zenner on a 75-yard fourth quarter scoring drive. Even more important, Detroit's front allowed Stafford to be sacked just once and hit just two times in the contest. Stafford certainly appreciated the effort.
It was a good performance for the guys up front, and it came at a time when it was needed the most.
THIRD DOWN: BIG PLAY SLAY
For all the big plays Darius Slay has made over his six-year career, Sunday marked a first for the All Pro.
He broke perfectly on a third-quarter pass from Josh Rosen intended for wide receiver Trent Sherfield along the right sideline and returned it 67 yards for his first career touchdown.
"Fast, it was a good play by him," head coach Matt Patricia said of the play, which happened right in front of him along the visiting sideline.
"I think he did a really good job of coming out of the break, he read the receiver really well. Obviously, Slay is a great player and kind of read the receiver coming up and he was able to kind of get his weight down and break in front of it and be able to come up with the interception. It was a hard catch for him and great job by him staying in bounds. I thought he would kind of drift out, but he did a great job. He's athletic and fast and then he ran by me."
Slay also broke up three passes, making it the 11th time in his career he's defended at least three passes in a game.
It's been an up and down year for Slay after he led the league with eight interceptions and defended 26 passes to lead the league in both categories last season.
Sunday notched his third interception of the season and the 12th pass he's defended. He's gutted through some injuries all season, and Sunday he made the biggest play of the game to help the Lions secure their fifth victory.
FOURTH DOWN: ZENNER STAYS READY
Zach Zenner is about as professional a football player as they come. He never complains, is up to do anything the coaches need of him, and always steps in ready to contribute when his number is called.
With the Lions holding a 10-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Zenner's number was called.
Zenner up the middle for 14 yards. Zenner for seven. How about another four. Zenner for seven more. Another seven. Finally it was Zenner into the end zone.
When it was all said and done, Zenner had gained 42 yards rushing on a pivotal 75-yard scoring drive that iced the game for the Lions. Zenner, who had just four carries (for 28 yards) on the season before Sunday, had all the offensive yards on the drive. The other 33 came off penalties.
"Part of what makes him a really good football player is he's always ready to go," Stafford said of Zenner. "He's locked in on the game plan and he did a great job of hitting some runs right where they needed to hit today breaking some tackles and doing a good job for us."
Zenner gave all the credit to the offensive line after the game, which is par for the course for Zenner.
He finished the game with 54 yards on 12 carries – all in the fourth quarter – for an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and was a big reason why the Lions were able to move the football late and ice the game with an offense that had struggled to move the ball all game.