Friday will be a key day at practice for the Detroit Lions' offense this week. On Friday, the team works through their red zone packages.
Detroit's offense has scored a touchdown on six of their 13 trips into the red zone through the first three weeks. Their red zone efficiency rate of 46.2 percent ranks 27th.
"It's just execution," quarterback Matthew Stafford said Wednesday. "Throwing and catching and blocking, making runs and run reads and all that stuff. We have enough players and personnel and coaches drawing up good plays for us, we just have to go out there and execute them."
Detroit's successful play percentage in the red zone, however, is just 36.1 percent. Only the Jets have a lower percentage (33.3). Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said this week it's a combination of execution and him being better calling plays down there.
"It's a major focus for us obviously," Bevell said. "We're trying different things. There's 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."
As he typically does, Stafford put the onus on himself. He said he has to be better down there so they're not settling for as many field goals as they've been their first three games.
"I can obviously be better in those situations," he said. "We just have to go out there and make some plays. Look at the great play Kenny (Golladay) made (for a red zone TD in Arizona last week). Just threw a ball up to him nice and high on a short safety and made a great play. It just takes that kind of stuff, that kind of execution."
The Lions need more of that this week against an explosive Saints offense that can put points on the board in chunks.
The Saints' defense ranks 30th in the NFL allowing a touchdown on 10 of 12 trips into the red zone for their opponents this year.
MICHAEL THOMAS WATCH
The Saints have played their last two games without All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas, who led the NFL in receptions (149) and yards (1,725) last season, because of an ankle injury he suffered Week 1. The Saints have dropped both of those contests to the Raiders and Packers.
Drew Brees has a 77.7 completion percentage when targeting Thomas since 2016, the highest completion percentage by a quarterback-receiver duo in that span (min. 100 targets).
"Obviously a great player and a go-to guy for Drew Brees," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said Wednesday of Thomas. "Someone that he trusts really in a system where Drew can do a lot of different things at the line of scrimmage based on coverage and calls and communication.
"I think that Michael Thomas – just the communication they have and some of the signals and the routes based on leverage, based on coverage, that they're able to get to, really make them operate very efficiently."
Thomas is one of the best in the business at getting off the line of scrimmage.
"He has a tremendous release at the line of scrimmage. He runs a great slant route at the No. 2 slot where he's just going to come off and move the defender out of his way. It's the catch-and-run plays after that that is just great. Huge target for them to convert first downs and keep the chains moving – just a great player."
The Saints didn't put Thomas on injured reserve, which would have forced him to miss their next three contests. There's a chance he returns to play Sunday in Detroit, which would be a big boost for the Saints' offense. It's certainly something to monitor on New Orleans' practice report this week.
The Lions are 1-2 after getting their first win of the season last week in Arizona. There's still a lot of season to go, but 2-2 heading into their Week 5 bye would feel a lot better than 1-3.
Also, consider this: Teams that start the season 1-3 have made the playoffs 14.3 percent of time and won their division just 8.1 percent of the time. A 2-2 start bumps those percentages to 36.9 percent to make the playoffs and 17.6 percent to win the division. The Lions can't afford to get too far behind Green Bay and Chicago, who are both 3-0 heading into this weekend's games.
PRATER PLAYER OF THE WEEK
After kicking a 39-yard game-winning field goal as time expired against the Cardinals, Lions kicker Matt Prater was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Prater was a perfect 4-for-4 kicking field goals in Arizona and 2-for-2 on extra point tries.
It's the 11th time Prater's won a special teams player of the week award and his sixth with Detroit. He has 15 career game-winning field goals.
- The Saints have won 12 consecutive games in the month of October. The last time they lost a game in October was Week 7 of the 2016 season (Oct. 23, 2016).