'It's a major focus': Lions' offense looks to cure red-zone woes
As the unit nears full strength, there's plenty to like about the Lions offense.
Sure, quarterback Matthew Stafford has made a few uncharacteristic errors, but he's showing no ill effects from the back injury that sidelined him for the second half of last season. And his pass-game weapons might be as deep and talented as they've been during his career, led by a Pro Bowl-caliber talent in Kenny Golladay and supplemented by Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, deep threat Marvin Hall, rookie Quintez Cephus and rapidly improving tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Heck, even Detroit's ground game has looked respectable to start the season, and that's with barely tapping into the potential of second-round draft pick D'Andre Swift.
But there's one area where the Lions have lagged behind to start the season. It just so happens to be the most important category of them all: Points.
The Lions are averaging 23.3 of them per game through three weeks, in large part because they've failed to capitalize on opportunities. While 13 of the league's teams are scoring touchdowns on two-thirds or more of their trips into the red zone, the Lions rank 27th, at 46.2%.
"It’s a major focus for us obviously," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "Last week we ended up 2 of 6, but the last one, obviously we know what that is, so it’s really 2 of 5. I think it’s a little bit of both. We’re trying different things. There are times where we try to run it in. There’s been times where we try to throw it in. We just have to be able to put it all together whether it’s play calls — whether it’s execution of the specific plays — but we can definitely be better down there. That’s a focus."
Detroit's inefficiency close to the goal line is a big reason the team needed a last-second field goal to beat the Cardinals, despite being plus-3 in the turnover battle. As Stafford said after the game, the offense should have scored 40.
Getting Golladay back after a two-game absence should help. He led the league in touchdown receptions a year ago and picked up where he left off in his season debut, going up high for a 15-yard score against the Cardinals.
Still, as Bevell noted, play-calling and execution both need to be better overall.
Against Arizona, in particular, the run-pass balance on early downs, especially down the stretch, was lopsided. There were also sacks, penalties and Stafford misfiring on a throw to an open Jesse James.
This week offers a good opportunity to get on track. Sunday's opponent, the New Orleans Saints, have been among the league's worst red-zone defenses to start the season. So far, they've allowed 83.3% of opponents' trips to result in a touchdown.