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TWENTYMAN: Lions should look to Hockenson to help solve red-zone issues

The Lions have talked a lot this week about their issues in the red zone through the first eight games of the season, both offensively and defensively.

Offensively, Detroit ranks 30th in the NFL with a touchdown percentage of just 50 percent. Only the New York Giants (46.2) and Washington (45.5) have a lower percentage.

It's usually tough sledding for offenses in the red zone. The field is compacted, there's less room to operate, and this league has a lot of versatile playmakers on defense.

But Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson has to be more of a factor down there for the Lions the second half of the season.

Hockenson's 48 receptions are second only to Kansas City's Travis Kelce (54) among tight ends. His 448 yards are sixth most at the position. But Hockenson has just two touchdowns on the season, and none since Week 2.

Hockenson's begun to get the star treatment from opposing defenses, mostly because of his talent, but partly due to the fact that teams aren't as concerned about Detroit's ability to make plays on the outside.

When those rare instances come when Hockenson does have a one-on-one opportunity in the red zone, he's got to be a priority read, though he admitted Friday those are few and far between. Still, he's got be more of a factor down there. He's too good not to be.

"Each week you go into it and kind of have that mentality and we have some plays that are in for that," Hockenson said Thursday, when asked if he'd like to be a more featured weapon in the red zone. "In the last few weeks we haven't been able to get down there as much probably and use those, and when we are, late in the game, it's one of those things where we're going to run it in.

"But yeah, I'm always trying to do what I can each week, especially in the red zone, that's usually a tight end's down. Just trying to do what I can every day, especially down there. I just want to help out as much I can."

Quarterback Jared Goff's five touchdown passes in the red zone this season are tied for the second fewest in the NFL.

Hockenson has been really good this year in the 20-yard range that encompasses the red zone. He's caught 10 of 16 targets in the 10-to-19-yard range for 150 yards and a score, per Pro Football Focus statistics. It's even better when Hockenson is targeted from the line of scrimmage out to nine yards. He's caught 33-of-39 targets in that range for 253 yards and a score.

Hockenson said his focus the second half of the season is making more plays every time his number is called. He included beating double teams as part of that, and having the run-after-the-catch part of his game be more of a weapon.

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

Hockenson said he licks his chops when he sees single coverage these days because it doesn't happen a lot. He said quarterback Goff is good about identifying those opportunities and getting him the ball.

Giving Hockenson more chances to make plays in the red zone, whether its scheming better opportunities for him or giving him a chance to beat a double team, could be a good way to help boost the red zone numbers for Detroit's offense.

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