Lions' first-half observations: Defense keeping Detroit in it vs. Cincinnati

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit News contributor Nolan Bianchi offers his first-half observations as the Lions take on the Bengals at Ford Field.

Defense is hanging in

Lions linebacker Julian Okwara (99) sacks Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during the first half Sunday.

All right, we’ll start with the good: After a rough opening series that saw the Bengals go up 7-0, the Lions’ defense buckled down and held Cincinnati down for the rest of the half.

Amani Oruwariye picked off his third pass of the season, Jerry Jacobs cracked Joe Mixon to force a fumble (recovered by the Bengals) on Cincinnati’s second-to-last series of the half, and Tracy Walker nearly had an interception when he jumped a second-down throw to Ja'Marr Chase late in the second quarter. 

Chase, averaging 91.2 yards entering Sunday, was held relatively quiet until a 34-yard catch down the sideline helped set the Bengals up for a field goal to close the second half.

Joe Mixon has been limited to just 3.9 yards per carry and the Lions' defense got off the field with a third-down stop on all but one of its opportunities after the Bengals' opening drive, including a sack by Julian Okwara on a crucial third-and-2 from the Bengals 47.

Almost every week, the Lions' defense has gotten better as the game continued, but that will be hard to match this second half. If it does, the Lions have a chance.

Offensive woes continue

The Lions’ offense entered Sunday ranked 24th in the league in offensive efficiency, and while that’s certainly not much to be proud of, it also is better than their 32nd-place win-loss record.

But for a fourth straight week, the Lions opened the game looking woefully incompetent on the offensive side of the ball for a number of reasons — and this week, they didn’t even bother reaching their opponent’s side of the field much.

The rushing attack of Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift has been, to this point, something to lean on, and with the Bengals’ lead held to 7 for the entire first half, the Lions had an opportunity to keep trying to run the ball, instead of needing to play catch-up.

The Lions’ defense tried to give its offense a chance with the Oruwariye interception, but Amon-Ra St. Brown had the ball ripped from his hands while going to the ground — resulting in an interception for Goff — just a few plays later.

That was largely unsuccessful, though, and the Lions’ offense looked even worse than it has in weeks past. Swift and Williams averaged just 1.83 yards on 12 combined carries, and there simply wasn’t much that Detroit could do to get Cincinnati’s defense off-balance.

The Lions began to pick up some momentum when it opened the second quarter with the ball, but Goff made a couple of miscues to end the drive prematurely. He overthrew a wide-open T.J. Hockenson with a floater on third-and-4; the Lions went for it on fourth down and Swift had nobody within 10 yards of him in the right flat, but Goff bailed from the pocket — after Swift had gotten open — and threw the ball away.

Cause for concern?

After a pretty positive start to his NFL career, Penei Sewell has had a tough couple of weeks. Last week, it was Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen giving the rookie all sorts of problems over on the left side. Early on this Sunday, it’s Trey Hendrickson giving the 21-year-old fits.

Sewell took a false-start penalty on the opening drive after the Lions had already been for illegal formation, then got beat clean by Hendrickson on the next drive for a sack of Goff. Oh, and the failed fourth-down conversion we just mentioned? As Goff bailed from the pocket, Sewell took another holding penalty.

Again, he’s 21. There is plenty of reason to believe that the long-term outlook is still fine. But in the meantime, the unreliable protection to Goff’s blindside is something that’s actively hurting the Lions’ offense.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.