TEMPE, Ariz. Six players got game balls Sunday after the Cardinals beat the Lions 25-21 at University of Phoenix Stadium. So did the coach and general manager, courtesy of team owner Michael Bidwill.
"I think we took a big step forward -- the fourth quarter of the Rams game versus the fourth quarter of this game," coach Bruce Arians said of his team's ability to both shut down an opponent's offense and rally for a victory. "Each week its going to be different. (But) I like where we're heading."
There were a number of issues still plaguing the Cardinals in their home opener, notably their third-down execution and pass rush. But winning cures all ills, and this victory was particularly big since the Cards play their next two games on the road (New Orleans, Tampa) and three of their next four away from home (San Francisco in Week 6).
Here's a look back at the first win of the Bruce Arians era.
Facing a third-and-8 from the Lions 32-yard line just before the two-minute warning, QB Carson Palmer threw for Andre Roberts in the end zone. Roberts had his man beaten and drew a pass interference call that set up Rashard Mendenhall's 1-yard TD run for the winning margin.
Jay Feely. Yeah, we know he's a special-teams player, but he accounted for 14 of the team's 25 points, making all four field goals and both PATs on a day where the Cardinals needed him to be letter perfect to cover for their struggling offense. Feely faced competition in camp from Dan Carpenter, and coach Bruce Arians criticized him last week for missing a field goal and struggling on kickoffs; on Sunday, all four of Feely's kickoffs went into the end zone. He came through in a big way.
Karlos Dansby. We could give this to Tyrann Mathieu again, but we like to spread the wealth. Dansby should have had an interception on a pass that was rifled through his hands and landed in Calvin Johnson's, who took it 72 yards for a TD, but Dansby had a much better effort Sunday than he did the previous week, leading the team in tackles with eight and showing off his versatility against the run and in coverage. After the game, Dansby talked mostly of the fine he's likely to receive for missing that INT. "I jumped it so fast that I had to try to cradle it, but when I tried to cradle it, it went right through," he said. "I jumped it, though. I knew exactly what was coming."
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
-- The Cardinals still can't generate a consistent pass rush: Calais Campbell recorded the team's first sack of the season, but that's all the Cardinals got in that department, leaving them tied for 29th in the NFL in sacks after two weeks (ahead of only the sackless Bengals). John Abraham looked poised for a big day after a tackle for loss on the first play and two tackles on the opening drive, but he didn't dent the stat sheet again all afternoon.
-- The run defense has improved: It helped immensely that Reggie Bush left the game with an injury, but the run defense was strong for a second straight week, holding Detroit to 49 yards on 20 carries for a 2.5-yard average. When is the last time you could say this? Arizona ranks third in the NFL in rushing defense. The Cards are allowing 58 yards per game.
-- Youth was served: Here are the snap counts for several young Cardinals on Sunday: Mathieu 53, safety Tony Jefferson 47, running back Andre Ellington 18, receiver Kerry Taylor 17, receiver Jaron Brown 13. Arians said when he arrived that he is not afraid of using young players. He's been true to his word.
The Cards hope to have tight end Rob Housler (ankle) and receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) back this week but will know more on Wednesday. Arians said a couple other players were dinged up, but the team won't know until Wednesday how bad they are. He didn't think they were serious.
ODDS AND ENDS
-- Justin Bethel isn't emerging as an elite special teams player. He is an elite special teams player. Bethel came off the edge to block a 47-yard David Akers field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter and, while demanding double teams from opponents, is still finding ways to make plays. "If you can block off the edge on a field goal, you're pretty dynamic," Arians said.
-- Arians was asked if he thinks the offense is thinking too much on third downs, as the team went 1 for 11 in those situations against the Lions. "No, we're not thinking enough," he said. "Our attention to detail on offense is very lacking."
-- It wasn't exactly a secret, but Arians officially announced that the Cards will stay on the road between this week's game in New Orleans and the following week's game in Tampa. The team will practice at the IMG Academy in Sarasota.
-- Arians thought left tackle Levi Brown (no sacks allowed) played much better against the Lions than he did against the Rams. It helped that he wasn't facing an elite speed rusher like Robert Quinn, but he was "much better." Arians added, "His technique wasn't perfect. He tried to use his hands more. Not enough, but he played a much better game."
-- Arians said Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got the better of right guard Paul Fanaika on several occasions to apply pressure up the middle.
-- Rookie running back Andre Ellington has impressed impressed the coaching staff, and Arians said Monday he doesn't see the rookie as just a third-down back. This kid can carry the load, Arians said.
-- Safety Yeremiah Bell played some linebacker Sunday as part of a package to handle the Lions offense, particularly Bush. He played great, Arians said. We asked him to learn linebacker in two different fronts. I cant say enough about the guy. Hes the ultimate pro.
The Cardinals face the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday. The Saints moved to 2-0 with a 16-14 win over the Buccaneers in Tampa on Sunday on Garrett Hartley's 27-yard field goal as time expired. If you want something to keep an eye on next week, elite tight end Jimmy Graham had 10 catches for 179 yards and a TD in that game.
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