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Lions making red zone improvements an area of focus

The numbers were not pretty last year for the Detroit Lions in the red zone – both offensively and defensively.

Detroit's red zone efficiency on offense was just 47.8 percent, which ranked 31st in the NFL. The Lions also ranked 31st defensively, with opponents having a red zone efficiency percentage of 70 percent.

Detroit's offense ranked 30th in red zone third-down percentage, 30th in red zone passer rating, 32nd in rushing average inside the 20-yard line and 29th in the number of successful plays they ran in the red zone, per STATS INC.

Defensively, Detroit ranked 28th in third-down defense, 30th against the pass and 29th in the amount of successful plays they allowed to opponents last year in the red zone.

"There's a number of teams, some of the better teams, Seattle for years – this is what they do, they know exactly what they do (in the red zone), they know their own weaknesses and good luck trying to exploit them," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of what Detroit has to do better defensively in the red zone in 2022. "Even though you know where the holes are, so do they, and they're really good at it. Some other teams, they mixed up their coverages and you could never get a good beat on what they were.

"So I feel like some of that was you kind of hang your hat on what we have this year and what we use. Just subtleties in what you do coverage-wise and then so much of it is predicated on your rush too. It makes a huge difference."

The Lions expect to be much better in that aspect of their defense with some of the changes to their scheme upfront and some additions to the roster along the defensive line, mainly No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson.

Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson talked earlier this offseason about needing to attack the outside part of the field more in the red zone. When he broke down their red zone film from last year he noticed their offense attacked outside the numbers in the red zone among the fewest times of any teams in the NFL. The additions of DJ Chark and Jameson Williams in the X and Z spots out wide should help with that, but Johnson also pointed to Detroit having to be better running the football in the red zone.

That aspect of Detroit's run game was kind of an oddity last year because the rest of it between the 20s was pretty good. Detroit's 6.2 average rushing yards per game in the red zone and their 2.0 average per carry down there were the lowest in the NFL.

Overall, the Lions rushed for over 1,800 yards, 12 touchdowns and averaged 4.4 yards per carry, marks they haven't reached collectively since 1998, but it was a different story in the red zone.

View behind-the-scenes photos from 2022 Detroit Lions Media Day on Monday, June 6, 2022.

"Our run efficiency dropped off tremendously when we hit the red zone," Johnson said. "We talk about No. 1 that running the ball still has to be a staple for us. It gets more challenging the tighter you get, but the funny thing was, from the 20 (yard line) to 15 we dropped from like 50 percent efficient to like under 20. It was staggering.

"That's something we have to take a hard look at. We have as a coaching staff to make sure scheme-wise we're putting ourselves in a good situation too."

It's going to be hammered home to the players that being more consistent running the football in the red zone is the starting point for fixing some of their woes offensively, according to Johnson. The adjustments to their pass rush will go a long way to improving defensively down there.

Campbell ran a lot of red zone competitive periods in minicamp. It's obviously a big focus to be better inside the 20s on both sides of the ball in 2022.

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