Be ready. Stay ready.
Take advantage of your opportunity.
One of the things we learned in the Detroit Lions' 17-3 road win over the Arizona Cardinals in the Drama in the Desert Sunday is that players can enhance their status and help their team win if they do those things.
Zach Zenner was the most obvious example of a player who took advantage of playing time, but in addition to what he did as a running back there was a small play he made that went unnoticed by most people – except teammates and coaches – that showed the commitment players make to the total team concept.
Among other things we learned was that plugging offensive linemen into roles because of need doesn't have to result in a drop off in performance, and the value of defense for entertainment is in the eye of the beholder, and that cold hard facts show in the TV ratings who watches what. And it's not always the stars.
We start with Zenner, the man of the hour:
Run and tackle: What we all saw was how Zenner was the go-to man on the Lions' 75-yard possession to the clinching touchdown. Zenner gained all the yards from scrimmage on the possession, carrying seven times for 42 yards.
Zenner carried the ball on seven of the eight snaps. Pass interference was called against the Cardinals on one other snap.
The possession took up four minutes and nine seconds, and his seven official snaps were part of the 16 offensive snaps Zenner played in the game.
Zenner went back on the field after the touchdown to play on the kickoff coverage unit. It was one of his 17 snaps on special teams, and when he got to the bench he remarked to someone how he was glad he was able to assist teammate DeShawn Shead on the tackle that forced the Cardinals to begin the ensuing possession at their 25-yard line.
Bottom line: Back to back plays – a touchdown run and a tackle on special teams – were both important at the moment.
Putting pieces together: The Lions had made one change on the offensive line before Sunday. Kenny Wiggins has started seven games at right guard and the last five since T.J. Lang went out for the season with a neck injury.
Other adjustments were made Sunday because of injuries, and they fit together on the clinching touchdown drive as follows:
Guard Joe Dahl was at fullback in place of Nick Bellore, who returned from an ankle injury but did not finish the game. Dahl got one of the lead blocks on Zenner's 14-yard run to start the possession.
Rookie Tyrell Crosby, a high-value fifth-round pick, was used as an extra offensive lineman early in the game and took over at right tackle when starter Rick Wagner went out early with a concussion. Crosby held his own throughout the game.
On first and goal at the eight, Wiggins got two blocks as part of a big push by the offensive line that cleared a path like a Rome plow cutting through bamboo that carried Zenner down to the one.
It was more of the same on second down – with help from tight end Levine Toilolo and wide receiver Andy Jones lined up outside left tackle Taylor Decker.
As Zenner said after the game, the running game "is everyone," and that was the case on that drive. The Lions dominated the line of scrimmage.
Defense, drama: The average fan probably couldn't take a weekly diet of offensive track meets like the Rams' 54-51 win over the Chiefs any more than the Lions' 17-3 win over the Cardinals.
One game was a battle between two of the league's best offensive teams, both with Super Bowl aspirations. The Lions and Cardinals are teams with losing records trying to salvage something that they can carry into the offseason.
Defense ruled Sunday night in the Bears' 15-6 win over the Rams – the same Rams team that hung 51 points on the Chiefs just 20 days earlier. But the game was compelling because it was between two first-place teams.
Eyes on the Lions: The Lions-Cardinals game had an overall Nielsen rating of 21.9 and a 38 share, with a peak of a 24 rating and 43 share at 5:30 p.m. (Detroit time).
The score, if anyone has forgotten was 3-0 at the peak.
The previous week, with the Rams in town with their high-flying offense and former Lion Ndamukong Suh, would seem to have been a much greater local attraction.
The Rams-Lions game had an overall rating of 19.9 and a peak of 20.7.
Based on Nielsen's projections, a ratings point represents 17,770 households in Metro Detroit, with an average of 2.5 viewers per household.
That translates to 1.06 million Metro Detroiters watching the Lions-Cardinals at its peak compared to 920,000 watching the Rams-Lions at its peak.