ARIZONA CARDINALS VS DETROIT LIONS 1:00PM EST
FORD FIELD, DETROIT MICHIGAN
TV: FOX 2 IN DETROIT
INJURY REPORT - ARIZONA: DT Marcus Bell-OUT; LB Gerald Hayes, S Justin Lucas-QUESTIONABLE; G Leonard David, LS Nathan Hodel-PROBABLE
DETROIT: LB James Davis, CB Chris Watson - OUT; CB Dre' Bly, WR Az-Zahir Hakim, DT Kelvin Pritchett, DT Cory Redding-QUESTIONABLE
(ALLEN PARK) - The Arizona Cardinals won the Super Bowl
In a television simulation, using EA Sports Software, the Arizona Cardinals, behind the run game of Emmitt Smith and the defensive play of Dexter Jackson, won the Super Bowl beating the San Diego Chargers.
Now back to reality.
ESPN got one thing right in the simulation, the Cardinals intend to buck the trend of West Coast Offense teams and do something that would make Bobby Ross proud; lineup a huge offensive line and play smash mouth football.
"They have a big offensive line and they are big and physical. They are going to want to run the football. That has been their thing and is why they are 4-0 in the preseason," said coach Steve Mariucci.
"They are rushing for 180 yards a game and they are big up front and like to play smash-mouth. So we have to stop the run, make them punt and put them in passing situations because Emmitt Smith is as good as they come."
Mariucci's mention of NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith in connection with the Arizona Cardinals is an oxymoron. One of the greatest players in NFL history is now saddled running for one of the league's historically sorriest franchise. Smith aims to change all that.
"My motivation and my goal is to help this team get back to the playoffs and hopefully have a chance to compete for a championship game, a NFC championship or even a Super Bowl," said Smith who is nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career. "That is my major focus and major goal and that has always been my approach to every season."
While Smith is the starter and listed as the feature back, Marcel Shipp will get nearly as many carries as Smith will.
"I don't have any problems at all with sharing time with Shipp. Personally, I
think Marcel Shipp is a great back and can carry the load if need be. Right now,
I think the ball is going to be handed off to me to start the ball game off and
we'll see how everything works out from that point on."
Arizona's propensity for running the football plays to one of the Lions strengths, stopping the run. Detroit should be one of the better teams in the league against the run because of their rotation of three quality defensive tackles in Dan Wilkinson, Shaun Rogers and Kelvin Pritchett. If rookie Cory Redding is healthy, add him to the mix as well. Mariucci said that Redding was "very limited" in practice and "may not be available." Still, Detroit's tackles want to take on blockers to allow active Earl Holmes to make tackles.
If Arizona is able to establish a run game, that makes the Cardinals mad bomber Jeff Blake that more effective. Blake throws one of the better deep balls in the NFL and he and Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis would love to take advantage of Detroit's injury depleted secondary.
"By neither one of our fault, we've had some injuries at the cornerback position," said McGinnis. "I think both of us have wide receivers that have some speed. We both have quarterback that can put some air under it and get it down the field so I'm sure both of us are going to take some shots."
Arizona's receiving corps are not household names.
Lions fans will remember Larry Foster, who was acquired by Arizona through a
trade for draft picks last season. "Jerry Sullivan was the driving force behind
that," said McGinnis. "He had some good experiences with Larry and we've been
very, very pleased with what Larry has been able to do for us."
One of the key match-ups will be Detroit's Boss Bailey against Arizona tight end Freddie Jones.
"I"m going against Freddie Jones and a couple of other guys they've got that
are real good also," said Bailey. "They are very good blockers, they're a
running team with Emmitt Smith and it's going to be a big challenge for me.
We've been talking about Arizona since training camp started. Learning their
personnel, the things they like to do and that, so I think we'll be prepared."
Bailey needs to neutralize Smith and force Blake to check down to his backs to prevent Arizona from spreading the field, making their run game more effective.
Offensively, the loss of James Stewart is big. Stewart was the kind of back that could pick up four or five yards between the tackles on a consistent sort of basis, avoiding loss yardage on first downs. Now, the load will be shared by a trio of backs, Shawn Bryson, Avon Cobourne and newly acquired Olandis Gary. Who's ever the most effective will get the most touches.
"There's some of this offense that they haven't even practiced yet which is what we're going to present [Friday] so we'll go through tomorrow's practice, review a little bit on Saturday and then we're going to determing how exactly we're going to play. We're going to play all three tailbacks."
Mariucci then turned "tongue in cheek" when he talked about who would be the starter.
"As to who starts maybe determine by what personnel group the first play is
so then we have to decide who gets introduced. Maybe we'll introduce all three
of them together, holding hands. We could do that, or just introduce the defense
and avoid the topic for another three minutes."
Even if it's running back "by committee" Detroit has to establish some kind of run game to keep Arizona from teeing off on Joey Harrington.
"In the west coast offense, no matter who we are talking about, the run game
is very important. You need to make teams play run and pass to set up the
play-action pass, [also] to set up so we can move the quarterback around so his
launch point isn't from the same spot in the pocket all day long. It helps your
passing game," Mariucci said.
For Lions quarterback Joey Harrington, he realizes the importance of a good run game to keep the pressure off and allow him time to see the field. "I always felt protected when James was in there and it's going to be tough to lose him, but on the same token, we've got three young guys who are pretty explosive, who I've seen smoe great things from in practice and in preseason games."
Harrington will also look to establish Charles Rogers, starting his first NFL contest and he knows the butterflies will be all over the rookie wide out. "He has to relax," said Harrington, just be comfortable. It's easier said than done.but when Charles is thinking too much he's struggled a little bit this year. When he starts to over-analyze things instead of just going out and just playing instinctively, he's a threat. He's a threat when he can just go out and run and not think about it."
KEY MATCHUPS: Detroit defensive line against Arizona's offensive front. Arizona has a big talented offensive line led by L.J. Shelton, Pete Kendall and Leonard Davis. Detroit defensive line must win the battle up front and will rely upon Shawn Rogers and Dan Wilkinson to play well. Robert Porcher, James Hall and Kalimba Edwards will look to funnel the run game inside and then put pressure on Blake.
Charles Rogers vs Dexter Jackson. Detroit would love to spring Rogers free in the slot but must account for the presence of last year's Super Bowl MVP Jackson. Jackson is a true ball hawking safety who can make plays. When the inevitable deep ball goes up, Rogers must use his tremendous athletic ability to outbattle Jackson for the football.
Bill Grammatica vs Jason Hanson: Polar opposites of what a kicker can be. Hanson took on a linebacker on a kickoff return in preseason and put him on his back. Grammatica got hurt celebrating a meaningless field goal. Still both are accurate and either one could win the game for his team. Hanson must be error free for Detroit to get an advantage.
Eddie Drummond vs Cardinals return unit: Drummond must pay dividends now that the regular season is here. Detroit needs him to change field position once or twice during this contest and Drummond knows that. "They hustle a lot. They're basically a go get it team. They don't have a whole lot of individuals that stand out but as a unit, they really get after it," said Drummond who says he's now 100% healthy.
Dre' Bly vs Larry Foster: This may seem like a mis-match on paper, but Foster has speed and can catch. Bly has been injured but says it's time to put all that behind him. "I'm very excited, said Bly, I haven't played all preseason, but [after] practicing today I'm just very excited. I can't sleep at night. I don't know when the last time I felt like this.
EXTRA POINTS: Lions wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim will practice in shorts today and could play in Sunday's contest.
PICK: Special teams will be a factor and there figures to be a lot of scoring in this one. Chuck Priefer's squad figures to change field position at least once in this one. Arizona's ability to run the football and wear down the Lions depleted defensive tackle group makes me nervous. Detroit must control the clock on offense to keep the big offensive line off the Detroit defensive front. Detroit 27 - Arizona 20.