Lions eyeing matchup with Fitzgerald, Cardinals in opener

Jim Caldwell

Detroit cornerback Darius Slay recalls a time earlier in his career when he went up against Larry Fitzgerald, and the star receiver was able to beat the coverage.

Fitzgerald immediately explained why to his vanquished opponent.

"He kind of corrects you if you're wrong about something out there on defense. That's how nice a guy he is," Slay said Monday. "He told me why he got me and how he knew what it was. ... Right in the middle of the game. He caught it, and got up and was like, 'Hey Slay, this is what you did.'"

Slay and the Lions will have another chance to face Fitzgerald this weekend when Detroit begins its season against the Arizona Cardinals.

It's a matchup that has not been kind to the Lions of late, with the Cardinals taking the past seven meetings, and this may be an unusually important opener for a Detroit team that made the playoffs last season but finished on a sour note.

The Lions dropped their final three regular-season games and were beaten handily by Seattle in the playoffs.

For the most part, they looked outclassed by top competition.

It's not clear what challenge Arizona will present after a losing record in 2016, but the Cardinals went 13-3 the previous season, including a 42-17 win at Detroit. That was during the only really poor stretch for the Lions in coach Jim Caldwell's three-year tenure. They bounced back last season, but still have a lot to prove.

"There's no room for error at this point, because now we're preparing for the game," receiver Golden Tate said. "Everything kind of turns up a little bit, as it should be. There's a lot of excitement out there within that locker room."

Caldwell, whose demeanor always seems to be on an even keel, said he doesn't want the team "on an emotional roller coaster on day one" - but he too is ready to move on from the preseason for a number of reasons.

"Ballgames, obviously. But, I like the preparation leading up to the ballgames even more," Caldwell said. "Getting guys in position to do what they got to do and the challenge of getting the team ready, that excites me, that's a lot of fun.

"Because you see during the course of the week that guys look at their opponent, they look at what they have to do, you implement a game plan, and then to go see if you can carry it out."

Fitzgerald, who turned 34 recently, is third on the career receptions list and led the NFL with 107 last season. He and 37-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer form an accomplished tandem that will test the Detroit secondary.

The Lions lost defensive lineman Kerry Hyder to an Achilles tendon injury in their first preseason game, but defensive end Ziggy Ansah came off the physically unable to perform list recently. The defensive front will remain an area to watch, against both the run and the pass.

After facing the Cardinals in Detroit on Sunday, the Lions play on the road against the New York Giants before hosting defending NFC champion Atlanta.

So this opener - at home against a team that didn't make the playoffs a season ago - may be crucial to avoiding a rough start.

The Lions probably aren't thinking that far ahead, though. Right now, it's just nice to be able to prepare for a game that counts.

"When you get to game time, it's full throttle and we're excited about that," Caldwell said.

NOTES: The Lions signed DE Earl Okine to the practice squad and released DT Derrick Lott from the practice squad.