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Lions second half struggles must get reworked to elevate franchise

While the Detroit Lions starting games hot, they are going to need to finish them just as well.

Syndication: Stevens Point Journal Tork Mason / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the old days, former Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford was known for leading the team in fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. After having a rough start in games, the team would rally in the second half and in the fourth quarter to take the game over and win. Things have changed dramatically since then, as the Lions have Jared Goff at quarterback and a whole new coaching staff. The team is winning big games against teams with winning records, but so far in 2023, they are doing it off a solid first half with a second half that isn’t what it used to be.

Now, this isn’t me asking to see Goff pull the team from behind and get a game-winning drive every week, and I would prefer these games not to come down to those things. That doesn’t excuse the second-half woes this season, and it’s something that Detroit can’t ignore. If the Lions are going to make a playoff run this season, they will need to play all four quarters of complete football. Against tougher teams, these woes that are happening now without much consequences will hurt them badly, particularly in the playoffs.

So far this season, here is how the Lions have faired out in each half:

  • First half: 61 points scored, 27 points allowed
  • Second half: 45 points scored, 56 points allowed

Outside of the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Lions have performed much better in the first half than the second in every game. It isn’t just an offensive issue; the problem is on both sides of the football. We see the offense struggle to move the ball, and the defense seems to let more things go, allowing the opposing team to stay in the game and take advantage of the Lions’ offense struggling.

Third quarter woes

The team seems to come out of the halftime break flat and needs something to spark them. Here are the opening drives for the Lions offense in each of the second halves:

  • Week 1: Three-and-out
  • Week 2: One play, fumble
  • Week 3: Three-and-out
  • Week 4: Three-and-out

The defense has its issues, too. They have forced a punt in just one opening drive of the second half out of four opportunities. They allowed the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks to score touchdowns. (To be fair, they were on short field position against Seattle after the Montgomery fumble). Against the Atlanta Falcons, they didn’t allow points as the Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 47-yard field goal, which isn’t like him.

Turnovers are another issue for the third quarter, too. Two of the offense’s six turnovers have happened in that quarter alone.

In every game except for the season opener, Detroit had the lead to start the second half, and it feels like they go from executing plays with ease to struggling with the simple things. Blocking and creating lanes for the running backs seems to be a hassle, and the pressure from defensive lines seems to force Goff to make awkward throws and make them uncatchable for receivers.

Playing not to lose

You can tell the Lions’ offense turns into conservative mode—calling lower-risk plays and trying to manage the clock so their opponent doesn’t have time to come back. The Lions rush the ball more in the second half, from 61 times to 74 times, and the yards per attempt falls from 4.4 to 3.7. Sure some of these plays are kneel-downs, but rushing the ball more and being less efficient isn’t going to put games away. Detroit has attempted 78 passes in the first half, compared to 53 in the second.

Say they go up against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, a team with a high-powered offense and a stout defense. Running the ball conservatively isn’t going to work out with the lead. The team needs to gain yardage through the air, and it doesn’t have to be big chunk plays either, it can be for 5-6 yards and make your receiver try to get more yards after the catch to set up the short-run play.

Against the Seahawks, the Lions had to throw out their conservative playcalling as it was in another shootout with Seattle. Down by 10 points with less than 11 minutes left in the game, they had to make plays and did just that to force overtime.

It’s not that the team is playing scared; they are simply trying to limit the opportunities for their opponents to come back. They are level-headed in the first half, making aggressive moves when needed and conservative calls when called for. In the second half, that gets pushed aside, and the team tries to focus more on eliminating time instead of doing what worked in the first half.


Against the Falcons, Detroit was up 13-3 at halftime, and they knew the Falcons were struggling on offense as the Lions’ defense was dominating them. So, the offense needed to limit turnovers, move the ball, and chew up the clock. But Goff threw a second-half interception, the offense went three-and-out twice, and it kept the Falcons around longer than they should have been.

The Lions were up 27-3 at the half against the Packers. Detroit allowed a touchdown and two-point conversion in the first drive of the second half and eight seconds into the fourth quarter. It was suddenly 27-17, and the fans were back into the game. The Lions were able to finish the game when needed and score to make it 34-17 before the Packers got a garbage time field goal.

The Lions are counterpunching, though

While the team has struggled in the second half, they are still not backing down without a fight and have put in big drives and plays when needed. They aren’t losing these leads and letting teams tie the game or be just one score away; they are extending the lead when the opposing team thinks they have a chance.

So far this season, Goff has thrown three interceptions. The offense’s drive following each of those interceptions has been a Lions touchdown every time. He is battling adversity and overcoming it, which is great to have in a quarterback.

When going up against the Falcons, Goff threw a terrible interception with the Lions only up by 10. The defense responded with a four-and-out (failed fourth down conversion) and the offense then drove 62 yards for a score that put the game away.

Against the Packers, Green Bay was starting to gain momentum and cut the lead down to 10 with plenty of time in the fourth quarter. But Detroit responded precisely how they wanted to; it chewed up eight minutes of the clock and scored.

These kinds of drives are excellent but showcase some issues the team has in the second half. In back-to-back weeks, in games seemingly in the Lions’ control, the team concedes to focus on conservative play calling, which allows the opposing team to get back in the game by scoring. Then after their opponents make it interesting, the Lions revert to their play calling from the first half to score and put the game away.

How can this be fixed?

The best way for the Lions to overcome this issue is to treat at least the third quarter like the first half and stay level-headed. No lead is safe in the NFL, and you need to take points when you can get them, even if you are already winning. So don’t get too aggressive and go for it on fourth down when in field goal range and take the three points. Also, don’t get conservative and try and run out the clock; play balanced as you did in the first half, which brought you the lead.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell preaches to his players never to get too high or low with emotions, and the Lions need to call games like that for all four quarters, not just two. If you are up by three scores or more, then it’s fair to take the gas off the pedal and do what they have been doing so far, but the moment the opposing team makes it a two-score game, you should go back into balanced mode and try and respond with a score.

That doesn’t mean you get reckless and do something risky or rely on a trick play; you go back into your first-half mantra and be level-headed. If they can push themselves to be more effective in three quarters and have a three-score lead entering the fourth, that is the best time to chew the clock and pressure the opposing team to score.

You don’t need to pedal to the metal every week and try to score 50+ points like you are the Alabama Crimson Tide playing the Citadel Bulldogs in Week 11, but you also don’t need to be afraid you are going to blow a 21-3 lead and start trying to get the game over with quickly.

Detroit will have to do this against better teams because teams like Seattle have shown that you need to put up points if your defense makes a stop, and if your offense is scoring, the defense better be slowing down the opposition. Detroit’s schedule has a few teams that look difficult so far this season, and they can’t be lethargic in these easy games because once the top teams come around, they’re going to wish they were better prepared.

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