The Notebook

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NOTEBOOK: Hockenson working to improve in rookie season

Tight end T.J. Hockenson has been a big part of the Lions' red zone offense so far this year. His versatility and playmaking down there is one of the reasons the Lions drafted him so high and have targeted him often.

Hockenson has been mostly good through his first four and a half games, which includes a 131-yard receiving debut in Arizona, but there have also been some rookie moments.

Hockenson's second-quarter drop in the end zone Monday night in Green Bay that forced the Lions to kick a field goal in an eventual 23-22 loss tops the list. He also had a grasp of a touchdown in Philadelphia that a defender was able to jar lose.

"It's tough," Hockenson said. "I'm my own biggest critic. You always see me figuring out what I did wrong or what I can do better. That's what I'm going to do this week. We're going to move on."

Meet this week's opponents, the Minnesota Vikings.

Hockenson has 15 grabs on the season, which ranks tied for 14th most among tight ends. He has 187 yards and a couple touchdowns. His 12.5 yards per reception is third behind only Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen among tight ends with at least 15 catches.

He's been a pretty good blocker, but there's always room for improvement there as well.

"You have to forget what happened last week and move onto this week, good or bad," Hockenson said. "Forget about it, move on, and I think that's something our coaching staff and all the guys around here have done a great job with."

That should be easy this week given the challenge Detroit faces in Minnesota Sunday. The Vikings' defense ranks in the top 10 in every major statistical category.

"We have a challenge and it's a lot of fun," Hockenson said. "Just stepping up to things like that and just being able to compete day in and day out and trying to get better and trying to work with this team has been a blessing."

The Lions will need Hockenson and the rest of their skill position players to make the most of their opportunities this week if they want to beat a Vikings team that's playing really good football right now on both sides of the ball.

GOAL-TO-GO OFFENSE

Detroit has a veteran quarterback in Matthew Stafford and a lot of veteran skill position talent along with an experienced offensive line. The Lions' offense ranks in the top half of the NFL in every major statistical category, but when it comes to goal-to-go touchdown situations, Detroit's offense has struggled for some reason.

Detroit's had a first and goal drive nine times through their first five games, but has only scored a touchdown four times, and two of those came on fourth-down conversions. Detroit's been forced to kick three field goals in goal-to-go situations and worse, they've turned the ball over twice, both in the same game in a close loss to Kansas City.

Through the first six weeks of the season, only Jacksonville and Miami have a worse touchdown percentage in goal-to-go situations than the Lions this year.

It's an area where offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and the players need to be better. Detroit has too many weapons and is too talented an offense to not be able to punch the ball into the end zone in those situations.

TOP-NOTCH DEFENSE

"Another stellar defense with a lot of great players on it."

That's how Bevell described the defense Minnesota will bring to town Sunday.

The Vikings' defense comes in fifth in total defense (310.3), sixth in points allowed (15.5), seventh against the pass (218.8) and ninth against the run (91.5).

Six players on defense have made the Pro Bowl for the Vikings in the last two seasons.

Just how good are they playing this year? Minnesota has five players on their defense currently ranked in the top 10 at their position by Pro Football Focus – ILB Eric Kendricks (1st), S Anthony Harris (1st), DE Everson Griffen (3rd), DE Danielle Hunter (5th) and safety Harrison Smith (7th).

"That team is on fire right now and they're getting ready to come down here and play a great game," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said.

"They have a phenomenal defense. Their front is a major issue. The schemes that they run are a problem. They have a lot of players that have been playing there for a while now and you really see the nucleus of that team that's been there for about four or five years and the leadership of that team taking over."

EXTRA POINTS

  • Patricia said defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, who's been out since the first week of training camp with an elbow injury, is truly "day to day," as he tries to build up his practice reps needed for his elbow to hold up in a regular-season game. It's been hard for Hand in that regard because they only practice in pads once a week during the regular season. This being a short week, they probably won't be in pads at all this week. Hand continues to work through it, and is trying to get back quickly.
  • Patricia didn't seem too optimistic that rookie pass rusher Austin Bryant would return to practice this week. Bryant was placed on IR to begin the year with a shoulder injury. He's eligible to return to practice this week. When and if he returns to the practice field, the Lions would then have 21 days to decide if they want to designate him for return. Detroit can designate two players for return.

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