GLENDALE — The offensive changes the Cardinals made in the offseason were understandable and overdue. But the ones on defense, a new coordinator and six new starters, suggested the Cardinals were trying to overhaul an engine that was running just fine. It’s too early to judge the wisdom of all those moves, but if Sunday’s 25-21 victory over the Lions is an accurate indicator, the new model could be just as efficient. There were glitches early, including two touchdowns by Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. But the Cardinals defense took over in the second half, yielding 90 yards, four first downs and no points. The only Lions score of the second half was a 66-yard interception return. Most importantly, the Cardinals defense was at its best in the final two minutes, unlike last week when it allowed the Rams to score the winning points in the final seconds. “We didn’t feel like we finished in the last game,” defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said, “and that was kind of the focal point going into this game.” “Finish” was a buzzword around the team’s Tempe headquarters last week, especially for the defense. It allowed 10 points in the final two minutes of the halves in a loss at St. Louis, and Detroit scored a touchdown with 1:55 left in the first half. In those same periods, the Cardinals produced nothing. It was frustrating because, as defensive end Darnell Dockett explained, “We practice two minutes more than any team I’ve ever been around. That’s including college.” The hard work finally produced results on Sunday. Down 21-19, the Cardinals drove 61 yards in seven plays to score a touchdown and take a 25-21 lead (the conversion attempt failed). They did it without receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had left the game with a sore hamstring. The key play was a pass-interference call on Lions cornerback Bill Bentley, who blocked receiver Andre Roberts from the ball in the end zone. Rashard Mendenhall’s 1-yard touchdown run gave the Cardinals the lead with 1:59 left. With two timeouts and a potent offense, the Lions (1-1) had the assets needed to score. “It was pride week,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “We put a lot of emphasis on two minutes to make sure we closed the game out and closed the half out.” The Lions (1-1) gained 17 yards on the first play but just 9 more. On fourth-and-4, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw to receiver Nate Burleson, who was guarded by Mathieu. Mathieu, who saved a touchdown against the Rams last week, stopped him for a 3-yard gain. “I knew they were going to try to target me, with me being a rookie,” Mathieu said. “They had been running the same routes all day, so they were going to come with the quick slant.” The defense improved from the first game to the second. On Sunday, it was the Lions, not the Cardinals, lamenting their poor execution in the closing minutes. “What it boils down to is two-minute offense and defense,” Stafford said, “and we didn’t get it done.”
Detroit’s Reggie Bush got an up-close look at the new Cardinals defense, in this case it’s end Calais Campbell, top, and safety Yeremiah Bell.