The NFC West superpowers, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, remain the only teams to beat the Cardinals in University of Phoenix Stadium during the last calendar year. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles dialed up an excellent game plan to lead Arizona to an 18-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Monday night. Our takeaways:
- Grizzled veteran Larry Foote led the Cardinals' defensive effort with eight tackles -- two for a loss -- and a tipped pass that thwarted the Chargers' comeback attempt late in the game. If the 34-year-old can duplicate that performance on the road while staying out of the trainer's room, this defense can survive the offseason losses of Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby.
- The Chargers have a future star in second-round rookie linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, who led directly to 10 points with a blocked punt and an electric strip-sack. Led by Corey Liuget and Dwight Freeney, the Bolts' pass rush gave the Cardinals' offensive line problems throughout the night. That's new strength for San Diego and the same old weakness for Arizona.
- The Chargers' cornerback group, one of the least effective units in the league last year, is much improved. Brandon Flowers took Larry Fitzgerald out of the game with help from shade safety coverage, and rookie Jason Verrett held his own. Fitzgerald needed a diving fourth-quarter catch to extend his streak to 150 games with a reception.
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- A game-time decision due to a foot injury, Andre Ellington touched the ball 18 times for 80 yards. Even though his game-breaking ability was compromised due to the injury, he was still valuable to the Cardinals' offense. We're not convinced he can run effectively between the tackles, but he's going to make a lot of plays this year.
- Ryan Mathews is the same back who led the NFL in rushing over the final seven games of last season. He looked better than the box score suggests.
- The debut of Joe Lombardi's Saints-inspired offense couldn't have gone any better in Detroit. Ten minutes into the game, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were already off to the best statistical first quarter of their respective careers. Stafford's decision-making was much improved, his arm talent was as obvious as ever and he finished with the third-highest single-game passer rating (125.3) of his career. Johnson was even more dominant than his NFL-best 7/164/2 stat line suggests, as his two most impressive receptions were ruled incomplete.
- The opposite was true for Ben McAdoo's Packers-inspired offense. By halftime, the Lions had more penalty yards (85) than the Giants had total yards (78). Eli Manning was picked off twice, struggled to move the chains and averaged fewer than 5.0 yards per attempt. In fairness, he took a beating behind a porous offensive line while waiting in vain for Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle to get open.
- Manning's most reliable receiver was slow-moving tight end Larry Donnell, a core special teamer last season. Eli has always relied heavily upon tight ends, so Donnell is a good bet to stay involved in the passing game.
- George Johnson was a revelation for the Lions' pass rush. Out of the league in 2013, Johnson racked up the first 1.5 sacks of his career in the first half. Linebacker DeAndre Levy deserved a Pro Bowl nod last year. He was just as impressive in the opener, flying to the ball and coming down with an athletic interception.
- The Giants were not only beset by communication issues on both sides of the ball -- they also put forth a lackluster effort.