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10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: How can Lions' offense improve in the red zone?

Every week during the regular season Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

20man: That's a good question.

The Lions have found out the hard way a few times this year that they have to take advantage of opportunities to put teams away and learn how to finish games.

It started Week 1 in Arizona, blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead.

Detroit has had nine first-and-goal drives this season and have scored just four touchdowns on those.

The Lions rank 21st in the NFL in red zone efficiency at 50 percent.

Defensively, Detroit's had the opportunity to make key stops late in games holding onto the lead, but couldn't get it done.

I think the biggest lesson learned through five games is the team needs to take better advantage of opportunities to score points or make stops that will help them finish more games.

20man: That's a tricky one because blitzing also makes the defense vulnerable in giving up big plays if they don't get home. To me, blitzing is an art form. I don't think a team should just blitz to blitz. They have to have confidence in the players doing it, be very aware of who they're doing it against, and be secure with their ability to cover behind it.

Some of the opponents the Lions have faced early on might be playing a factor in the low number of blitzes we're seeing, currently at around 11 percent.

Philip Rivers has a 126.0 passer rating when blitzed. Aaron Rodgers is at 113.6. Both Carson Wentz and Patrick Mahomes are very dangerous to blitz against with the experience and playmakers they have at the skill positions.

It will probably fluctuate from week to week in terms of how many times the Lions blitz based on the opponent and game plan. I'm sure we'll see some weeks, especially when they're playing younger or more inexperienced passers, where they utilize it more times than others.

20man: Detroit's run game has been inconsistent through the first five weeks.

Detroit ranks 16th in the NFL in rushing (107.6), which is respectable, but they've needed the ninth most attempts per game (28.6) to get there, and are averaging just 3.8 yards per rush.

Credit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for sticking with it, because it's kept opposing defenses honest and has opened up the play-action game, but Detroit definitely needs more production from that aspect of the offense.

It will be important for Detroit to have some semblance of a running game this week because the worst scenario out there for Detroit's offense is getting into a situation where Minnesota's Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter can pin their ears back and get after quarterback Matthew Stafford.

This is a measuring-stick game for Detroit's run game. Minnesota ranks fifth in total defense and ninth against the run (91.5).

20man: Defensive back Quandre Diggs was questionable in Green Bay, and it was eventually determined he couldn't go. He did more in the open portion of practice Thursday than he was doing last week, so that's a good sign. He's a competitor. If he was close last week, with another week to get ready, I'll guess he's active Sunday.

Defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand has been an interesting case. Head coach Matt Patricia said Wednesday that Hand is considered "day to day" with the elbow injury. He's increased his contact and workload. Patricia said it's just a matter of building up his contact, so he's ready for the rigors of an NFL game.

Hand missed all of training camp and all of those padded practices. The coaches, trainers and doctors have to feel good about the elbow being able to hold up against the impact that takes place inside at the line of scrimmage. I think he's close to returning, but I can't make a definitive call for Sunday. Check back with me 90 minutes before the game.

20man: It's about execution and players taking advantages of opportunities to make plays. The T.J. Hockenson drop Monday night in the end zone is a perfect example. That's one of those plays that's the difference between six points and three points. In close games, those are difference makers.

Missed blocks are magnified closer to the goal line. They have to be better there. Stafford admitted Wednesday he has to be better getting the offense into the end zone more, too.

The problem has been more execution than scheme, in my opinion, so it just comes down to players learning from mistakes and taking better advantage of their opportunities to make a play down by the end zone.

20man: Yes. Stafford still has a lot of confidence in Hockenson. He also has a couple touchdown grabs down there, let's not forget about those. Hockenson appeared motivated Wednesday talking to reporters to make amends for that drop Monday night. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a big play or two Sunday vs. Minnesota.

20man: I agree. I thought the defensive line would be having much more of an impact than they are. It was good to see defensive tackle Damon Harrison Sr. get a little bit more involved in Green Bay, as he's been far off his pace of production from last year up to this point. They've obviously missed defensive tackle Mike Daniels (foot) and Hand (elbow) due to injuries. Defensive end Trey Flowers has one sack and one tackle for loss, well off his pace of production the last few years. Individually some players need to step it up, and they need to get everyone back healthy.

The Lions currently rank 27th in rushing defense, allowing 133.8 yards per game. There isn't a game yet this season where an opponent hasn't rushed for at least 112 yards on them. Detroit also has just 10 sacks on the year, and only 4.0 belong to the defensive line.

I think the saving grace for the defense thus far is they've forced 11 turnovers, which are the sixth most in the league. They're also fifth in the NFL in red-zone defense at 45 percent.

All that being said, Detroit's been in every game and held some good offenses and good players to average performances from their usual standards.

It's been a weird year so far for the defense, but those guys upfront will be the first to say they need to be more productive moving forward.

20man: Bryant injured his shoulder early in training camp after taking on a Hockenson block. He was put on IR to start the season. He's actually eligible to return to practice this week, but that hasn't happened as of yet, so he's probably still some time away from returning.

Patricia said Wednesday he didn't know when Bryant would return to practice. He'd be eligible to return to game action after Week 8, but he's got to get back on the practice field first.

I think we'll just have to wait and see how that goes in the coming weeks.

20man: The Calvin Johnson play. Anyone who has ever played football or watched football knew that was a catch. Still to this day, I think that's one of the more egregious blown calls in NFL history.

20man: Nah, my job is to write about football and be a conduit between the coaches and players, and the readers. I try not to get emotionally involved.

I write the facts, good or bad, and try to help explain why things happened the way they did, what challenges the team faces with the upcoming opponent, and keep you up to date on player news.

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