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Week 1 Game Recap: Arizona Cardinals 23, Detroit Lions 35

What you need to know

Arizona Cardinals

What elevated Sunday’s miscues beyond simple Week 1 struggles were that they were the offensive issues that dogged the team all summer. Did they have enough talent at wide receiver? Would the offensive line be able to protect Palmer? Which Palmer would show up? It would be a lot easier to write these off as struggles of a sluggish start had they not been questions surrounding this team for the last four months. While these issues appear to be legitimate causes for concern all season long, a week two matchup against the dilapidated Colts may be just the short-term remedy this team needs.

Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford was efficient in the passing game with four touchdowns and one interception. He frequently targeted Golden Tate who broke the century mark, while Kenny Golladay debuted with two touchdowns, including a highlight diving catch where he slid into the end zone. In the running game, the offensive line struggled to create room for Ameer Abdullah.

Arizona Cardinals

QB Carson Palmer, 75 offensive snaps, Pass: 27 - 48 - 269 - 1 TD / 3 INT, Rush: 1 - 2 - 0
After an offseason built around staying fresh, Palmer simply looked out of sync Sunday afternoon. Whether it was the frequently underthrown digs and outs, or the overthrows into the middle of the field that resulted in interceptions, Palmer simply could not connect. While Palmer deserves-and shouldered- a lion’s share of the blame for Sunday’s offensive futility, he was far from the only one to struggle. The offensive line’s inability to keep an average at best pass rush at bay undoubtedly contributed to Palmer’s rushed execution. Whether this was a singular sluggish effort or a harbinger of season-long offensive struggles remains to be seen, but the fact that offseason causes of concern have already materialized in week one is not a good sign.

RB David Johnson, 46 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 23 - 0, Rec: 6 - 68 - 0 (9 targets)
The big news for Cardinals fans and Johnson fantasy owners was the wrist injury the star RB suffered. Reports indicate Johnson’s X-Ray was negative, but he'll still have surgery and miss 2-3 months. Before the injury however, Johnson struggled in the season opener. Fumbling twice, Johnson’s ball security was an issue all day, and largely was unable to find workable holes through the offensive line that generated no push all afternoon. Johnson’s lone big play, a 24-yard reception, came on an exceptional catch off a wheel route, setting up Kerwynn Williams’ 3-yard touchdown.

RB Kerwynn Williams, 9 offensive snaps, Rush: 5 - 10 - 1, Rec: 1 - 2 - 0 (1 targets)
Despite the glory of scoring a touchdown, Williams did not a fare any better than Johnson when running against the Detroit defense on Sunday. Whether the team looks for additional help outside in the event of a long-term injury to Johnson remains to be seen, but Williams will serve as the primary back in that situation. Williams has seen success in games in which he has been more prominently featured, but with the Cardinals offensive line looking so ineffective, it is hard to imagine anyone having much success running behind it.

WR Larry Fitzgerald, 74 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 74 - 0 (13 targets)
While Fitzgerald undoubtedly played the best of anyone involved in the Cardinals aerial attack, it still was not an entirely sharp game for the future Hall of Famer. Fitzgerald failed to wrangler in a few balls, including one that should have been a touchdown and another that nearly became an interception. With Johnson likely missing extended time, Fitzgerald will likely become the focal point of opposing defensive game plans.

WR John Brown, 63 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 10 - 0, Rec: 4 - 32 - 0 (9 targets)
The majority of Brown’s success on Sunday came during the 2-minute drill before the first half. During that drive Brown was effective utilizing his speed to gain separation on dig and out routes. Unfortunately, that same speed never translated to any deep balls, whether due to Brown’s lingering hamstring injury or simply the Lions defensive game plan. Without the deep ball, Brown is still an effective offensive weapon, but far less an overall threat. Protection issues undoubtedly forced quicker reads and throws, further contributing to Brown’s struggles. Whether these are one-week or season-long offensive issues remains the million-dollar question.

WR J.J. Nelson, 30 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 43 - 1 (6 targets)
Coming off a disappointing preseason, Nelson did not fare much better week one. Despite catching the team’s only passing touchdown of the game, Nelson was largely a non-factor throughout much of the afternoon. His lone deep attempt, a 40+ yard throw down the left sideline, was badly dropped before being somewhat salvaged by a defensive unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. While Palmer made clear that much of the blame for the poor passing attack fell on his, not the wide receivers shoulders, it was hard not to feel like a sub-par group played a sub-par game. Even considering Fitzgerald’s credentials, this is a unit that lacks top-end talent. How much can be manufactured to overcome that remains to be seen, but Sunday showed little to inspire confidence in that idea. Nelson, and the rest of the receiving corps, simply must step their play up.

TE Jermaine Gresham, 55 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 15 - 0 (4 targets)
Gresham picked up right where he left off in 2016; becoming more of a focal point of the offense while still impeding it with costly penalties. On Sunday, three of Gresham’s four targets were all in the red zone, one of which would have been a touchdown had it not been for Gresham’s own holding penalty. At this point the costly penalties seem so imbedded in Gresham’s game its foolish to expect otherwise. What is curious is the uptick in red zone targets. Is it a function of the lack of weapons elsewhere or a genuine desire to see him more involved in the passing attack with his newly minted contract extension? While neither reason would point to Gresham becoming a viable fantasy starter, it will be an interesting development to follow throughout the season.

Detroit Lions

QB Matthew Stafford, 71 offensive snaps, Pass: 29 - 41 - 292 - 4 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - 14 - 0
Matthew Stafford was efficient completing 29 of his 41 passes. He targeted Golden Tate 12 times primarily in the short and intermediate area of the field. Stafford moved well in the pocket and avoided pressure to extend plays, including a scramble drill in the red zone to Marvin Jones Jr. for a touchdown. Stafford also threw a touchdown to Kenny Golladay for a corner route in the red zone that was well placed and capitalized on Golladay's size. Stafford was content early in the game to work the short and intermediate area of the field. Stafford showed comfort with Theo Riddick repeatedly on third downs and targeted him on an option route in the red zone that Riddick ran for a touchdown after the catch. Stafford's deep ball was rare, but he made it count. With Detroit up 21 to 17 with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Stafford hit WR Kenny Golladay on a go route for a touchdown. Arizona had packed the box with eight defenders, leaving Golladay with single coverage on the play. Stafford led Golladay a little too far, forcing Golladay to dive and catch the ball and then slide into the endzone. Stafford had an interception on his first throw of the game which Justin Bethel returned for a touchdown. The throw was to Tate on a shallow cross where Tate got bumped running through a zone. Stafford tried to anticipate his route and throw Tate open, but Tate did not make the spot because of the contact, and Bethel stepped in for an easy interception.

RB Ameer Abdullah, 36 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 30 - 0, Rec: 3 - 11 - 0 (4 targets)
Ameer Abdullah started the game and was the clear lead back but did little with the opportunities. Abdullah's runs were limited by Detroit's offensive line which allowed penetration frequently. However, Abdullah did little beyond what was created. On one rare run where Abdullah had the opportunity to make a big run he tripped on a defensive lineman's hand. He also got one on one with Tyrann Mathieu on a cut back run, but was unable to make Mathieu miss and was tackled for little gain. As a ball carrier, Abdullah showed that he had a quick first step, but did little after contact. He showed little ability to make defenders miss or to break a tackle, even when he was one on one in space. Abdullah did see four targets in the passing game, catching three but was limited to 11 yards, on passes in the flat and a curl route. Abdullah was clearly behind Theo Riddick in terms of backfield passing preference. Abdullah also gave up carries to Dwayne Washington in the red zone and in short yardage situations.

RB Theo Riddick, 21 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0, Rec: 6 - 27 - 1 (7 targets)
Theo Riddick was the clear passing preference out of the Detroit backfield throughout the game. Riddick scored a touchdown on a option route, where he ran to the middle of the field to catch the ball in the soft spot of a zone. After the catch, Riddick spun toward the right boundary to avoid two Arizona linebackers before diving into the end zone. Riddick was a reliable option for Stafford in the short passing game, which functioned as a replacement for the limited running game. On one third down and two, Riddick ran a check down route right to the line to gain and secured a catch while being immediately hit by an Arizona defender. He also had a 13-yard gain to start the two minute drill at the end of the second quarter to set up a Detroit field goal. While Riddick was locked in as the lead passing option out of the backfield, he was limited to one carry in the game.

RB Dwayne Washington, 14 offensive snaps, Rush: 6 - 22 - 0
Dwayne Washington functioned as the goal line and short yardage back in replacing Ameer Abdullah. He converted a short third down with additional linemen in the formation, and ran through contact at the second level. Washington served as the kick returner but misplayed a short kick creating bad field position for the Lions. Assuming he continues in the kick returning role, Washington is locked into the short yardage and goal line role as Detroit's third running back ahead of Zach Zenner.

WR Golden Tate, 63 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - 7 - 0, Rec: 10 - 107 - 0 (12 targets)
Golden Tate led the team with 12 targets and dominated the short and intermediate area of the field. He was used frequently in screens and crossing routes, and added two running plays. One run on an end around was a 15-yard gain but was called back on a illegal block in the back. Tate was the focal point of the offense, and did not see coverage from Patrick Peterson, who instead shadowed Marvin Jones, Jr. Tate did appear to experience pain in his left hand at multiple points during the game. He removed his glove after leaving the field, but there were no immediate visible signs of an injury. He returned to the game but again left the field after a catch because of pain in the same hand. Tate returned to the game again and finished without limitation, but was spotted with a split on his left ring finger after the game.

WR Kenny Golladay, 44 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 69 - 2 (7 targets)
Kenny Golladay flashed his promise during his first NFL game by catching two touchdowns passes. The first was a red zone target where Golladay used his size and frame to catch the ball above Justin Bethel. The second was a go route late in the fourth quarter. Golladay gained a release against Bethel and dove to catch the ball at the goal line before sliding into the end zone for the touchdown. Golladay made some mistakes including a drop with bad hand technique on third down that would have been a conversion. He was also targeted on an unsuccessful two-point conversion on a fade route. Golladay did not extend to high point the ball on the play, and as a result, Bethel was able to break the pass up. Golladay rotated in the game at the third wide receiver position with T.J. Jones, but tied for the second most targets, and they came in high leverage situations.

WR Marvin Jones, 68 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 37 - 1 (2 targets)
Marvin Jones Jr was shadowed most of the day by Arizona CB Patrick Peterson. Jones was limited to two targets and converted both for catches. The first was on a scramble drill in the end zone where Jones created separation from Peterson by working back to Stafford along the sideline for a touchdown. The second was a deep out against zone coverage where Jones caught the ball behind Peterson along the sideline before making a safety miss and creating yards after the catch.

TE Eric Ebron, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 9 - 0 (3 targets)
Eric Ebron was limited in the game to three targets. He was moved around the formation, including on the outside where he ran a dig route for a third down conversion. However, his role was limited with the passing game running through Tate and the red zone targets going towards Golladay.