The Cardinals' defense had to be almost perfect on Sunday, and for a long time, it came close.
The Lions' passing game looked feeble and their running game average – until a pivotal fourth-quarter possession that iced the game. Detroit running back Zach Zenner punctuated a punishing 75-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run for the final blow in the Lions' 17-3 win over the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.
Zenner carried the ball seven times on the possession for 42 yards. The Lions also gained 33 yards via penalty on the series, marching 75 yards without the benefit of a completion. The touchdown came immediately after the Cardinals pulled within 10-3 on a field goal.
"When the offense comes in bringing jumbo personnel like that, you pretty much know it's going to be a run," linebacker Haason Reddick said. "It's about who's getting more push on the line, who's stopping the A-gap and trying to build a wall so that there is nowhere to run.
"When situations like that come," Reddick added, "you handle it like grown men and do what you've got to do to get off the field."
The defense couldn't make the crucial stop, and attempting to overcome it proved fruitless for an offense which struggled throughout. Even though the late score was the knockout blow, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald put the onus on his side of the ball.
"The defense played a good game today," Fitzgerald said. "They played well enough for us to be able to win it."
One week after keeping Aaron Rodgers in check in Green Bay, the defense did another masterful job against the pass. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford finished 15-of-23 for only 101 yards without a touchdown or an interception.
No player for Detroit had more than 30 receiving yards, and safety Budda Baker forced and recovered a fumble on a short pass to LeGarrette Blount in the first quarter.
The total rush defense wasn't bad, as the Cardinals gave up 122 rushing yards on 31 carries – an average of 3.9 per rush. The Lions' first touchdown of the game wasn't the defense's fault, either, as Detroit cornerback Darius Slay picked off quarterback Josh Rosen and returned it 67 yards for a score.
However, the late run-stopping issues on defense were magnified because of the situation.
"I thought the defense kept us in the game up until that point," coach Steve Wilks said. "They only gave up three points. When you look at that 75-yard drive, a lot of it was missed tackles. We were there. We just couldn't finish."
After a season's worth of offensive troubles, it would be easy for the defense to point fingers and lay blame on the other side of the ball, but safety Antoine Bethea said there is no frustration with the offensive hiccups.
"This is a team game – the ultimate team game," Bethea said. "There isn't going to be a situation where all three phases are going to be clicking every Sunday. If one phase isn't doing so well, another phase is going to have to pick them up."
The defense did so for much of the day but couldn't stop the Lions when it mattered most.
"Any time someone runs the ball, their line is getting push, we're not in our gaps and we're not tackling," Bethea said. "The formula is easy. It's not rocket science. On that last drive, that's what it really was."
Images from the Week 14 matchup at State Farm Stadium