Lions' first-half observations: Detroit goes deep into playbook

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit News contributor Nolan Bianchi offers his first-half observations as the Lions trail the Rams 17-16 at SoFi Stadium.

Tricks and treats

If it wasn’t apparent that the Lions badly wanted to win this one, Dan Campbell made it glaringly obvious after Detroit took a 7-0 lead on its opening drive.

The Lions got the ball back with a surprise onside kick that was executed to perfection. Then after the drive stalled near midfield, punter Jack Fox received the snap, loaded up, and fired a 17-yard completion to cornerback Bobby Price before eventually moving into field-goal range, where the Lions extended their lead to 10-0.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell warches over his players during warmups.

We’ll have to wait and see just how much magic Campbell looks to pull out of his hat as this one goes on, but it’s safe to assume that the Lions are treating this game as their Super Bowl.

Still, the hard work and creativity will be for naught if the Lions can’t clean things up elsewhere. They’ve taken five penalties for 57 yards, including two third-down penalties on defense that gave the Rams a free first down on their first touchdown drive.

Stafford and friends

Matthew Stafford and the Rams’ offense have tortured NFL defenses all year, and today, he’s taking more of a slow-burn approach to torching the Lions’ offense.

The Lions avoided putting the ball in his hands with the onside kick, then forced a field goal on the Rams’ first offensive series. 

But from there? It’s been all No. 9.

Stafford and Cooper Kupp continued to find rhythm as the first half went on, connecting seven times for 78 yards and a touchdown. The former Lion threw his first touchdown pass against his old team in the second quarter, on an 11-yard strike to Van Jefferson.

And on the Rams’ final drive of the half, wide receiver Robert Woods got rolling. He caught a 22-yard pass on third-and-6 from the Detroit 43 to keep LA’s drive alive, then caught another 10-yard pass shortly after to move the Rams into the red zone before ending the drive with 45 yards.

Stafford finished the first half 17-for-23 passing with 166 yards and two touchdowns. 

There’s no shortage of weapons for the Lions’ defense to keep up with, and as the game rolls on, it’s hard to imagine that the Lions will be able to withstand this kind of barrage.

Perhaps the most concerning stat to come out of the first half for Detroit is how its third-down defense has fared: The Rams are 5-for-6 on third down at the half, with the only stop coming before their field goal.

Forward down the field

Until today, the Lions hadn’t taken a single snap on offense with a lead, and that’s dramatically limited the amount of touches that Detroit’s running back room has gotten.

It’s been apparent all season that the best way for Detroit’s offense to be effective is to put the ball in the hands of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams with frequency, and the Lions’ early lead has confirmed that notion.

Swift and Williams have a combined 59 yards on 11 carries (a 5.4-yard average), and that’s allowed them to keep Los Angeles’ defense guessing. 

Detroit has been able to keep LA off-balance since Swift broke a screen pass 63 yards to the house on the Lions’ opening drive, and that allowed the offense to find rhythm at times in the first half. 

Still, field goals aren't going to cut it against a high-powered offense like LA's, and if the Rams are able to take a multi-score lead at the start of the half, the ability to rely on Swift and Williams will dwindle.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.