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Lions offense being put to the test

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions know their offense needs to improve.

Through 10 games, the team is 26th in the NFL in scoring (18.8 points). And last weekend in a 14-6 loss to the Cardinals, the Lions failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2009.

"Certainly we need improvement in our offense," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "There's no question about that."

The question is whether the Lions can improve in time for Sunday's matchup against a Patriots team averaging 32.3 points. Play calling has been an issue at times this year, but ultimately, the players have said a lack of execution has led to the struggles.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi hopes he's found a way to improve both as he trims the playbook by about 20 percent this week. By practicing fewer plays, Lombardi expects the players to know the calls better and have a better chance to execute at a high level.

"You have a certain number of calls and maybe you get this one play repped against one or maybe two defenses," he said Thursday. "So if you have less calls, you can kind of show them more situations and you're not just talking about them. It's just a matter of practicing fewer plays, and then they're able to handle all the different looks that might come up."

Despite all the struggles, the Lions remain confident the offense will start to click.

"We have really talented players," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "It's on us to put it together."

Injuries, however, have played a role in the lack of cohesion — and the 332.3 yards.

"Of course we want to be more explosive out there and make more plays," wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. "It's coming; right now it's just taking some time."

The problem is two-thirds into the season, the Lions haven't been able to pinpoint the issues.

The run game has been non-existent at 79.8 yards, and the pass blocking has been problematic with Stafford being sacked 31 times.

Stafford also hasn't reversed his regression, completing 61.2 percent of passes, 22nd in the league, with a passer rating of 85, 23rd.

The good news is the Lions are 7-3, largely thanks to the NFL's top-ranked defense.

"We got guys that are talented, but guys that work hard," wide receiver Jeremy Ross said. "We got guys that are fighters as you've seen in the past games. We don't quit … so I think we're just going to keep trying to persevere and push through and figure out ways that we can make plays."

The Patriots, meanwhile, are 13th in the NFL in defensive scoring at 21.8 points, and held the potent Broncos and Colts offenses to 21 and 20 points, respectively, the last two games.

New England coach Bill Belichick is notorious for exploiting teams' weaknesses and disguising defensive schemes, so Lombardi is trying to ensure Detroit will be as precise as possible.

"I think we've had spurts where we've shown that we can do it, and I know that the players are good," Lombardi said. "I trust in the coaches and what we're doing, so it's just a matter of keep tweaking, keep working, chopping wood and it'll come around."