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TWENTYMAN: 5 areas to improve

We took a look at five players who've been impressive through the first five weeks of the season for the Detroit Lions on Saturday.

But it's equally important to point out five areas in which the Lions need to improve coming out of the bye week for them to accomplish some of the goals they have for the 2018 season.


It's been the biggest weakness for this team through the first five games. In their three losses, Detroit's allowed more than 150 yards on the ground. In their two wins, that number was under 100 yards.

For the year, opponents are averaging 145.8 yards per game. That ranks last in the NFL in run defense. The Lions have forced just seven negative runs all year, the fourth lowest total in the NFL.

"Like I said, when there's issues you usually go back, and you look at what the structure of things was and where the breakdowns were," Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said of the run defense. "In the run defense, like the pass defense, it's a team thing. So, it's not just the guys up front, it's not just the linebackers, it's just not the secondary. It's everybody.

"I personally think we're getting better and I think we're very close to being able to get this thing consistent."


Detroit was much better in this area in the win over Green Bay last week, but overall this year, it's been a struggle for them. The Lions rank last in opponent punt return average (21.9 yards). They're one of three teams on the season that's given up a punt return touchdown.

The 26.4 average opponents have returning kickoffs against Detroit ranks 25th in the NFL. The Lions rank second to last in net punting average at just 35.7 yards.

"I looked back (Tuesday night) and looked at them," special teams coordinator Joe Marciano said of the problems they've had covering kicks. "I have to be more detail-oriented, to be honest with you.

"Our players are trying. They're trying hard, they're playing hard. I have to be more detail-oriented and coach better."


Detroit's 4-for-4 performance in the red zone in the win against Green Bay boosted their overall numbers to respectability in this category, but through the first four weeks of the season the Lions were last in the NFL in red zone scoring at just 33 percent.

"Even last year, going to this year, I still think we have improvement to make," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said of his red zone offense. "I think we have a good group of guys. I like our group of guys. We're down there competing. The red area is a fun area because you get such tight coverage. You get such a tight box in the run game that really small areas and really small differences can make a difference in touchdown, no touchdown.

"Throws, catches, getting open versus really tight coverage is a big part of that thing. We look to keep competing in that area. We're always looking to evaluate our guys and see who can help."


The Chicago Bears are playing pretty good defensive football right now. That side of the ball is a big reason why they currently lead the NFC North with a 3-1 record heading into today's action.

One of the more impressive stats for the Bears' defense is that they're forcing a 3 & out on 31.1 percent of opponent offensive possessions. That leads the NFL.

Detroit ranks 30th in that category with only 14.5 percent of opponent drives ending in a 3 & out.

Part of the problem has been that Detroit is allowing on average 6.6 yards per play on first down. That's tied for the fifth most in the NFL, and is leaving the Lions' defense facing too many second & manageable and third & manageable situations.


Last year, Matthew Stafford had the third highest passer rating in the NFL on throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air at 111.6. He threw 10 touchdowns vs. only three interceptions all season, according to Pro Football Focus statistics.

Stafford currently ranks 17th in deep passing through five games this year, with a 79.0 passer rating. He has just two touchdowns and has already matched last year's total of three interceptions.

The Lions have the weapons down the field to make these big plays. Stafford certainly has the arm talent. For whatever reason, the deep passing operation has been a little off so far this season.

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