First-half observations: 49ers carving up Lions defense

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit News contributor Nolan Bianchi offers his observations from the first half of the Lions' game Sunday against the 49ers.

It's going to be a long year on 'D'

It would be extremely difficult for the Lions to challenge the defensive deficiency that they showed a season ago, but two quarters into 2021, it looks like they could give Matt Patricia's last group a run for their money.

The 49ers did whatever they wanted to on offense after turning the ball over with a fumble on their first play from scrimmage. Jimmy Garoppolo went 9-for-12 for 136 yards, rookie Elijah Mitchell ran the ball six times for 64 yards and a touchdown, and Deebo Samuel (five catches, 81 yards) was getting open over the middle for chunk plays as frequently as Garappolo was dropping back.

Thirty-one points is a lot of points in the NFL, and the 49ers could easily have more.

Lions have a running game (so far)

It's still very early, but the Lions offense ran the ball in the first half. Like, remarkably well, given the unit's history.

Jamaal Williams' first carry of the game went for 10 yards, and that pretty much set the tone. He wound up averaging 6.8 yards over six carries in the first half, carrying a brunt of the load until the second quarter — when all the D'Andre Swift fantasy owners breathed a sigh of relief.

Swift, whose status ahead of this week's opener was causing concern for a multitude of reasons, had a bit of a mixed bag in the first half. Consecutive runs that went for 16 and 15 yards in the second quarter were impressive, no doubt, but the 1- and 4-yard losses that immediately followed, and an average of 3.8 yards on 10 carries isn't great.

Is it Swift's fault that the 49ers' defense sniffed out a third and fourth consecutive carry? Not really. But if the Lions are to make this an effective part of their game for the long haul, they're going to have to figure out how to make it work in tandem with other parts of the offense and keep defenses guessing. Still: the early returns are extremely encouraging.

And an even more positive development for the Lions? It was Penei Sewell clearing the way on Swift's two big carries. He more than held his own against Pro-Bowl defensive end Nick Bosa in pass protection, too. We'll see if he sticks at left tackle, given how much more comfortable he looks there. 

T.J. Hockenson is, indeed, that dude

There was a pretty great deal of speculation that third-year tight end T.J. Hockenson would be "the guy" for Goff and the Lions offense this season, and so far, there's no reason to believe otherwise.

Hockenson was a frequent target for Goff in the first half, with a majority of his five catches (for 51 total yards) coming near or at the sideline — including the 6-yard touchdown that got the Lions their first touchdown of the season. He picked up yards after catch with finesse and physicality. If there was any question that he would be Goff's favorite target this season, that debate is all but over.

Goff's "get it to Hock" tendency did come back to bite him, though, and we got a glimpse of the questionable decision making that has plagued the former Pro Bowler his whole career: With the Lions looking to get back into the game before half, Hockenson was triple-covered while going over the middle and the pocket collapsing around Goff. Moments later, 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw was headed for the end zone with the ball in his hand.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.