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First-half observations: Matthew Stafford, Lions offense dismal vs. Panthers

Eric Coughlin
The Detroit News

A win on Sunday at Carolina would move the Detroit Lions to .500 for the first time since Week 6, and their opponent is on a five-game losing streak. Both teams are missing stars on offense, wide receiver Kenny Golladay for the Lions and all-world running back Christian McCaffrey for the Panthers.

If Detroit (4-5) is going to make a playoff push, a win over Carolina (3-7) is a must, but the Lions trail, 7-0, after two quarters.

Here are some key takeaways from the first half of play:

Surprise starter

Panthers coach Matt Rhule surprises by tapping third-string quarterback P.J. Walker for his first start: There was a possibility first-stringer Teddy Bridgewater would be able to go, and if not the assumption was Rhule would turn to Will Grier. Instead, former XFLer P.J. Walker, who played for Rhule at Temple, got the start.

Walker was up-and-down in the first half, going 14-for-22, throwing for 157 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

Detroit Lions running back Adrian Peterson runs against the Carolina Panthers during the first half.

Okudah struggles continue

Lions rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah has experienced growing pains adjusting to the pro game after being selected third overall in the NFL Draft, and they continued in the first half on Sunday. Okudah was beaten deep by Panthers speedster DJ Moore for a 52-yard completion that led to a Panthers touchdown to make it 7-0 in the first quarter. Okudah whiffed on a jam attempt at the line and couldn’t keep up in recovery, leading to the biggest play of the first half.

►Get live updates throughout the second half here.

►BOX SCORE: Lions vs. Panthers

Burned by basics

Lions center Frank Ragnow committed a massive mental error when he botched a shotgun snap to Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. Carolina recovered deep in Lions territory, but Ragnow was redeemed by Detroit cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who picked off Walker in the end zone to get the ball back for the Lions.

Key absences

Along with Golladay, running back D’Andre Swift and receiver Danny Amendola are out with injuries, and it showed.

The Lions could not move the ball in the first half. Every Detroit possession ended in a punt, turnover or the end of the half. The Lions mustered only 89 total yards on 25 plays, a 3.6-yard average. Stafford was a dismal 5-for-11 throwing for 54 yards. He has a brace on his thumb, but it’s unclear how much it’s hampering the 12th-year signal-caller. Tight end T.J. Hockenson has one notable drop and a blown block in the run game.

Detroit’s leading rusher is Adrian Peterson with seven carries for 18 yards, a 2.6-yard average, and backup Kerryon Johnson only has 12 yards on four carries.

Defense doing its job 

It is facing a third-stringer at quarterback, but Detroit’s defense is missing a lot due to injuries but is holding its own. Without defensive linemen Austin Bryant, Da’Shawn Hand and Trey Flowers, the Lions held the Panthers to seven points and only 47 yards rushing in the first half.