Lions' first-half observations: Two-touchdown lead a breakthrough

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit News contributor Nolan Bianchi offers his observations after the first half of the Lions game against the Vikings.

Offense catching fire (by Lions' standards)

One of the longstanding traditions of this year's halftime observations segment has been trying to explain what's wrong with a Lions offense that appears to have everything working against them.

But for just the second time this season, the Lions have claimed a two-score lead, this time 20-6. 

The absence of second-year running back D'Andre Swift in Sunday's game against the Vikings has been noticeable, as it basically removes a dimension of an already limited offense. Jamaal Williams caught a pass out of the backfield in the first quarter, but otherwise, it's been a run or play-action pass downfield.

And that's not exactly a bad thing — Jared Goff is on fire and maybe having his best game as a Lion. After missing his first two passes of the game, Goff hit 13 of his next 15 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

Lions running back Jamaal Williams stiff arms Vikings linebacker Troy Dye during the first half Sunday.

He's found success taking deeper shots downfield, including a strike to T.J. Hockenson down the seam to open the second quarter that went for 25 yards. It might have been one of his best throws this season. Two plays later, Goff fit the ball in a tight window to Hockenson in the back of the end zone to put the Lions up 7-6.

And then, on the next possession, Goff moved the Lions downfield with a 28-yard throw to Josh Reynolds (who made a good run after the catch) and a 23-yard strike to Brock Wright that put the Lions up 14-6. 

If play-action continues to be effective, the Lions could keep this momentum rolling.

Harris' House

The entire Lions defense played well in the first half, but a special shoutout is in order for edge rusher Charles Harris. 

The fifth-year vet picked up his team-leading fifth sack of the season when he came around the edge to strip Kirk Cousins in the second quarter. Julian Okwara scooped it up, and three plays later, the Lions were taking a 14-6 lead.

Then on the Vikings' next possession, it was Harris coming around the edge to sack Cousins for a 6-yard loss on second down, earning himself his career-high sixth sack of the season. On the next play, he bulldozed the left tackle again on third down to force a quick pass.

And Okwara deserves some love too: With the Vikings looking to add points before the half, Okwara picked up his first sack of the game by catching Cousins from behind on fourth down.

Defense balling out

Alright, more on that defense.

It should be noted that the Vikings' offense is missing some key playmakers — running back Dalvin Cook is inactive and wide receiver Adam Thielen left with an ankle injury in the first quarter — but even so, the Lions are doing a few things that we haven't seen in awhile.

For starters, they're getting pressure on the quarterback; we saw the difference that can make with the two Harris sacks. They're also finding ways to get off the field in their own territory, finishing tackles and keeping the Vikings' offense in front of them. Despite Cousins finishing the first half 13-for-19 with133 yards passing, he hasn't been able to hurt the Lions when it counts.

While the second-half task for Detroit's defense all year has been to simply keep the Lions afloat, they'll be asked to simply help finish the job this week. 

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.