NFC North: halftime thoughts

MINNEAPOLIS -- Some thoughts from the first half of the Detroit Lions' season finale, where they trail the Minnesota Vikings, 7-0.

Draft a wide receiver: The Lions clearly need one as the non-Calvin Johnson offense had no players who could get open, and could not move the ball at all. It just showed, again, how critical Johnson is to the Detroit offense. It's an offense that often talked about how many playmakers it had between Johnson, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Matthew Stafford. Yet without Johnson, the Lions were capable of nothing on offense. Not a thing. So, perhaps wide receiver leaps cornerback as the position of biggest need for Detroit.

No passion: Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, as all season long the Lions have talked and talked without having any positive action to back it up. Nothing changed in the last game of the season. After talking about how they needed to win this game and weren’t going to pack it in, the offense mustered 56 yards in the first half. The defense allowed 241 yards, and the same issues continued -- dropped passes, penalties and some odd play calling. The one thing that hasn’t happened yet is a turnover. The best Lions' player in the first half might have been Sam Martin, who punted well in the dome.

The Metrodome is a cool place: Between the giveaway promotions, a fantastic music selection, and a loud fan base getting excited at everything, this feels like a fitting closing to a pretty fun place to watch a football game. They also had a bunch of tributes here in the first half on the video board, which were more exciting than most of what happened on the field in the first half. In a world where so many stadiums are overly generic, this dome has a bit of character.
PHILADELPHIA -- Three halftime thoughts from the Detroit Lions' game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Detroit leads 8-0 at halftime from Lincoln Financial Field.

Let it snow: The weather was, by far, the big story in Philadelphia during the first half. It snowed throughout the first half and made moving the ball essentially impossible. More than midway through the second quarter, the Eagles had 16 yards on 15 plays. No real ability to gain traction and footing, so all straight ahead running here. It was the same for Detroit, which mostly used Joique Bell during the first half, especially with Reggie Bush essentially not playing after aggravating his injured calf muscle during warm-ups.

Fumbles all over the place: Part of the issues in the snow were holding on to the ball. Detroit fumbled six times in the first half -- the NFL record for fumbles in a game is 10 -- but only lost two, both on Bell runs. Quarterback Matthew Stafford fumbled four snaps in the first half, out of shotgun and under center. Not a pretty sight.

Johnson breaks a record: Calvin Johnson caught two passes in the blizzard of a first half Sunday, but one of them was a big one. Johnson caught a 33-yard post, giving him the Detroit Lions franchise record for receiving yards with 9,175. He passed Herman Moore, who has 9,174. Johnson also caught a facemask full of snow on the play for his effort on the post. That, though, was fairly common throughout the game Sunday.

Bonus thought: Rashean Mathis had a heck of a half in the snow. He had three pass breakups, including two in the end zone on Philadelphia’s only sustained drive of the half. Mathis had no tackles in the first half, but he might have had the two best defensive plays. Also helping was Chris Houston, who picked off Nick Foles for Foles’ first interception of the season.
DETROIT -- Some thoughts from the first half of the Detroit Lions-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, which the Bucs lead 17-14 at the half.

Return of Burleson: Nate Burleson has said for a couple of weeks that he planned on coming back and trying to pick up right where he left off, which was a 116-yard game against Washington in Week 3. He’s well on his way to proving that right after a massive first half.

Burleson was Detroit’s most-targeted receiver in the first half, catching five passes for 67 yards and his first touchdown of the season, one that resulted in a pizza delivery touchdown celebration. Burleson was targeted one more time than Calvin Johnson, who had six attempts.

A little more pressure: Detroit has two first-half sacks, one from Ziggy Ansah, who is in his first game back after suffering an ankle injury against Dallas in October. The other came on a rare blitz from the Lions, where Glover Quin sacked Mike Glennon for a 13-yard loss.

Otherwise, there hasn’t been much pressure on Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon, a continuation of the same issues the Lions have had throughout much of the season with their four-man rush. There has been limited rushing success today but nothing really strong.

Cornerback conundrum: In part due to the issues with pressure on the defensive line, Detroit’s cornerbacks have struggled throughout the day. Rashean Mathis had an awful drive in the second quarter, being beat in coverage on a 47-yard pass to Vincent Jackson and then again on a touchdown pass from Glennon to Tiquan Underwood. The Lions have had cornerback issues for a good portion of the season as well and it showed again against Tampa Bay.

Consider this -- Glennon finished the first half 9 of 11 for 132 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and a 147.0 quarterback rating. That’s just not good for Detroit’s defense.
PITTSBURGH -- Some thoughts from the first half of the Detroit Lions-Pittsburgh Steelers game, which the Lions lead 27-20 at halftime.

Record setter: After a rough start, Matthew Stafford turned into the player he’s been most of the season in the second quarter, hitting Calvin Johnson for two touchdowns and also setting the franchise record for career passing yards. Stafford is 16-of-29 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the first half. The first-half yardage is the best first-half output of his career and a Lions first-half passing record. He also figured out pretty quickly that Pittsburgh was leaving Johnson in single coverage, so he picked on Ike Taylor for six catches and 179 yards in the first half. Smart move by Stafford. He used it again on the final Detroit drive of the half, when Johnson drew two penalties on Taylor.

Secondary struggled early but rebounded: Louis Delmas, who has been pretty reliable throughout most of the season, had some issues in the first quarter. He was burnt on one Antonio Brown touchdown when he missed the jam off the line of scrimmage. On Brown’s other touchdown, both Glover Quin and Chris Houston missed open-field tackles by trying to arm tackle the Pittsburgh receiver. The Lions' defensive backs did play better in the second quarter, including a very impressive pass breakup by Houston on Brown on the Steelers’ second-to-last drive of the first half.

This team is explosive: With 10:34 left in the first half, a Shaun Suisham field goal gave Pittsburgh a 17-3 lead. After that, the Lions' offense went nuts -- scoring three touchdowns in the last 10:27, starting with a 79-yard Stafford-to-Johnson touchdown to give the Lions a 27-20 lead at halftime. The explosive nature of what the Lions can do offensively is why they are considered a playoff contender and a threat in the NFC North and the NFC in general. The 27 points in the second quarter tied a record for the most points in a second quarter in Lions history.

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