Tight end T.J. Hockenson got off to a really hot start this season with eight receptions and a touchdown in each of Detroit's first two contests. That kind of production draws attention, and Hockenson has received extra attention from defenses over the last month.
He went through a three-game stretch from Weeks 3-5 where he saw a lot of extra coverage attention and caught just eight passes total. Hockenson was back to his productive ways last Sunday against Cincinnati with eight catches for 74 yards, which actually could have been even better had he and quarterback Jared Goff connected down the left sideline for what probably would have been a 38-yard touchdown in the second quarter as Hockenson got behind coverage.
Still, Hockenson believes he can do more moving forward to help a Lions' offense that ranks 27th in total yards and 25th in passing.
"I'm always looking at myself in the mirror," Hockenson said this week. "Always trying to beat the person in front of me and the people in front of me. It doesn't really matter what that case is, but I'm just trying to create separation on one-on-ones and do what I can to help this team win."
Hockenson is doing a nice job creating that separation when given the opportunity. His 3.1-yard average of separation from defenders leads the Lions this year, according to Next Gen Stats.
Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has gotten creative with moving Hockenson around to try and find more of those one-on-one opportunities for Hockenson. Last week against Cincinnati, he created a big-play opportunity by lining him up in the backfield.
Hockenson is top 5 among tight ends in targets (44), receptions (32) and receiving yards (311) through six games, but with the team at 0-6 and the offense struggling to score points, he still feels he should be doing more.
"I know what defenses think of how I play and what they're looking at when they're seeing the film. I understand that they study too," Hockenson said. "But on the same hand, I still have to get open. I have to find different ways, do different things in my route. I have to marry things up with the run with the pass with each route tree. Just trying to make releases look the same but different."
There's a lot Hockenson is looking at in his game to see where he can help make this offense more productive. The other part of that is Goff making sure Hockenson is getting the football when he is open, which hasn't always been the case.
"That's kind of my goal," Hockenson said. "To create opportunities and make sure I'm capitalizing on all those opportunities.
TWO BACK SETS
Detroit's yards per rush, yards per pass attempt, yards per play and Goff's completion percentage are all up when the two are on the field together vs. separately, according to statistics tallied by TruMedia Sports.
It's something Lions running backs coach and assistant head coach Duce Staley was asked about Thursday.
"Anything that gives us an advantage, we want to use that," Staley said. "We have picked a few spots where we had both of those guys on the field, and you will continue to see that. One, because both of those guys are dynamic and they can make plays."
Staley said if they get some looks throughout the week while preparing for the Rams' defense where they think they can take advantage using that personnel package, they're going to use it.
STARTING THE CLOCK
The Lions started the 21-day practice window for veteran defensive end Da'Shawn Hand to come off IR on Wednesday. After a great start to training camp, Hand injured his groin and has been on IR for the first six games.
Hand can be a productive player when healthy, but he's missed 28 games through three seasons and six games into his NFL career.
If Hand returns to active roster, the Lions will have a good problem on their hands with Michael Brockers, Nick Williams, Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike, and John Penisini playing pretty well right now. They also have Jashon Cornell and Eric Banks on the active roster, and Kevin Strong, who is also on IR but practicing.
Only Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (7) and Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson (4) have more interceptions on the year than Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who has three. Oruwariye's three interceptions have come on just 24 targets, which gives him the second highest interception-to-attempt rate in the NFL by a cornerback this season who's been targeted at least 10 times