Allen Park — One of the biggest turnarounds the Detroit Lions have made this season has been capitalizing on red-zone opportunities. After finishing 31st in the NFL a year ago, turning a measly 46.7% of their trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns, the Lions rank fifth through 10 games in 2022, sitting at a much prettier 71.1% success rate.
That positive trend was put to the test against the New York Giants last week. Entering the game, the opposition was one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses near the goal line, so it merited watching who would win the strength-on-strength battle. By the end of the game, the Lions left little doubt, getting into the end zone on four-of-five trips.
“Yeah, it’s huge,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “I think just getting a win against a good team on the road is always a good boost. And yeah, we came into that game, all we heard about was how good they were in the red zone, how good they were on third down. And we said, ‘Well, we’re pretty good in the red zone too, and we’re pretty good on third down.’ Being able to prove that against a good team on the road is a lot of fun, and hopefully that carries over.”
The Lions will need it to carry over this week, when they face another top-tier red zone defense. Coming into Thursday’s matchup, the Buffalo Bills rank third in the NFL, allowing touchdowns on 45.2% of red-zone trips. That’s fueling a scoring defense that’s allowing just 17.4 points per game.
Commanding extra attention
In an effort to take their defense to the next level this offseason, the Bills signed future Hall of Fame edge rusher Von Miller. And much like the boost he provided to the Los Angeles Rams during their Super Bowl run last year, the 12-year vet is doing it once again, racking up 8.0 sacks and 43 pressures, ranking top-10 in both categories.
Miller is such an impactful player that the Lions have a specific set of blocking rules that adjust based on where he lines up each snap. In fact, any time the Lions face an impact rusher of Miller’s caliber, the team’s offensive line deploys what they call, “The Von Miller rule.”
“It is a rule, like a known-rusher rule,” Lions left tackle Taylor Decker explained. “Like this team, maybe they have some badass rusher, well, we’re using the Von Miller rule this week because he can be a gamebreaker. He’s still got it. Fountain of youth.”
But while Miller will certainly be a focal point of the game plan, Goff can rest a little easier knowing he’s got a pair of first-round offensive tackles in Decker and Penei Sewell, who are both playing at a high level.
“Always helpful to have those guys,” Goff said. “Both (Sewell) and Decker have had such a great year and done such a great job, but Von continues to show up. Over his whole career, it’s really amazing.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Decker has allowed 15 quarterback pressures and 3.0 sacks through 10 games, while Sewell has allowed 12 total pressures and 2.0 sacks.
More snaps for Chark
Lions receiver DJ Chark returned to the lineup after a six-game absence last week and was held off the stat sheet while playing a season-low 11 snaps.
After sitting out six weeks with an ankle injury, the Lions proceeded with caution with Chark’s workload in his return. But after coming out of the game against the Giants feeling good about the ankle, the team will look to ramp up his playing time, starting with Thursday’s game against the Bills.
“I think it was really actually good for him,” Campbell said. “He had 11 snaps, but just to get his legs back under him, get in there and move around a little bit. I know he came out of the game feeling pretty good. So, we think, certainly, he’s going to be able to take a bigger load this week, which is good.”
Hall of Fame semifinalists
The Pro Football Hall of Fame named 28 modern era semifinalists on Tuesday, including two players who finished their careers with the Lions, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and defensive end Dwight Freeney made the cut.
Boldin played 14 seasons with Arizona, San Francisco, Baltimore and Detroit, retiring after the 2016 season. His 1,076 receptions rank ninth all-time. Freeney, a seven-time Pro Bowler, ranks 18th on the NFL’s sack list. He played his last down with the Lions during the 2017 season.
The list of 28 will be trimmed to 15 finalists later this year and just five will be selected to be enshrined during Super Bowl weekend.
A gesture of thanks
After hosting the Bills game against the Browns at Ford Field last weekend because a massive snowfall ground the city of Buffalo to a halt, this week’s opponent sent a thank you to the Lions in the form of a $20,000 donation to the team’s charitable fund, as well as dozens of doughnuts for the staffers at Ford Field.