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A Tough Road Ahead For Cardinals

No matter an opponent's record, never easy to play away from home


Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker won't have the home crowd behind him for six of the next eight games.

DETROIT -- There were plenty of reasons why Bruce Arians was steamed about last week's loss to the Rams.

The turnovers, the red zone inefficiency, the failed last drive, but more than anything, it's because it came at home. The Cardinals coach expects perfection inside University of Phoenix Stadium, and that goal is unattainable four games into the season.

"Hopefully, this won't come back to haunt us," Arians said.

Despite the loss, the Cardinals are still in a nice spot a quarter of the way through the season, with a 3-1 record and in sole possession of first place in the NFC West. In order to stay there, they must continue that success as road warriors for the next big chunk of the schedule.

Three of the four games before the team's bye will be away from home, as will six of the next eight overall. It starts with back-to-back trips to Detroit and Pittsburgh. The matchups don't look as daunting as before the season started because the Lions are winless and the Steelers won't have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but Arians is as realistic in road situations as he is optimistic at home.

He constantly speaks of scratching out victories no matter how ugly they look.

"That message never changes," Arians said. "There are no easy games on the road."

The Cardinals went above and beyond expectation in their first road game against the Bears, scoring on the opening kickoff and coasting to a blowout victory. Even though the Lions are the only winless team in the NFL, they certainly aren't the worst, and beating them at Ford Field is still a challenge.

"The thing about playing road games is that the crowd is always loud, and when you get the defense going from the home crowd, it builds them up and helps them out a lot," wide receiver John Brown said. "They feed off that energy. That's exactly how our defense is at home. You've got to try to be perfect."

The Lions may be 0-4, but they dropped their opener after grabbing a 21-3 lead on the Chargers and also hung with the Broncos until late. Little needs to be rehashed about Monday night's loss against the Seahawks, when wide receiver Calvin Johnson was a gravitational pull away from a late go-ahead score when Kam Chancellor forced a spectacular fumble.

"This is a team that was a foot and a half away from beating Seattle at home," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "If anybody knows how hard that is, we do."

The Lions have some big names on offense, including Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford and wideout Golden Tate, but are 29th in the NFL in scoring at 16.5 points per game. The biggest issue has been the running game, as Detroit is averaging a league-worst 47 rushing yards per contest.

The Cardinals were gashed by Rams running back Todd Gurley in the second half last week and must bottle up Lions running back Ameer Abdullah, who has shown flashes of stardom.

"I really liked Ameer Abdullah coming out (of Nebraska) and he's a guy that can make you miss," Arians said. "We've got to do a great job fundamentally tackling this guy in the running game and the passing game."

Even though last week's loss hurt, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald pointed out that three wins out of four often results in a first-round bye at the end of the season. In order to maintain that path, the Cardinals must find consistent success in unfriendly atmospheres.

While the competition isn't overwhelming over the next eight games – seven of the opponents sit at .500 or worse -- facing a half-dozen of them on the road won't be easy.

"We're not going to lose sight of where we are or what we have in front of us, what we have at stake," Fitzgerald said. "We know we have a tough stretch, but we're very confident in the group of men we have assembled in this locker room."

Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Detroit Lions

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