Running Game Woes Slowing Offense

The Lions' inability to run the football is putting a severe crimp in their ability to cash in on their red zone opportunities. Going into their game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome, the Lions have the lowest red zone point production in the NFL -- 92 points in the first 10 games of the season.

Part of the problem is that the Lions have had only 23 red zone possessions all season. Only a handful of teams -- Jacksonville, New Orleans and Tampa Bay -- have had fewer opportunities from the 20-yard line in.

But the bigger part of the problem is that the Lions have a difficult time converting the opportunities into touchdowns or field goals. Their 43.5 percent conversion mark ranks 14th in the NFC and 27th in the NFL.

And, until they can force opposing defenses to respect their running game, it appears likely they will continue to have problems cashing in on their scoring opportunities.

"You've got to be able to run the ball a little more often, kick the field goals when we should, provided the score is reasonable," coach Steve Mariucci said.

"But I think the most glaring to me is the execution and the accuracy of the throws, catch the tight ball, the tight fit in there but be able to run the ball more effectively and more often."

The Lions have had trouble running the ball all season without James Stewart, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in the final preseason game and hasn't played a down all season.

They have not gotten a 100-yard game out of either of their running backs -- Shawn Bryson and Olandis Gary -- and have gained less than 100 yards as a team in eight of the 10 games they've played so far.

The most recent game -- a 35-14 loss at Seattle -- is the perfect example of the situation the Lions face. If they don't score throwing the football, it's unlikely they're going to score at all. At least when they're in the red zone.

They penetrated the Seahawks' 20-yard line three times and scored once -- on Joey Harrington's 15-yard pass to Az-Zahir Hakim.

On their second trip to the red zone, they had seven plays -- a quarterback draw for a three-yard loss, a run by Olandis Gary for a yard, a completion for 11 yards to fullback Cory Schlesinger and four incomplete passes. They turned the ball over at the Seahawks three-yard line.

On the third trip to the red zone it was more of the same -- three consecutive incomplete passes followed by an interception at the one-yard line.

"Everything is tightened down so the precision and execution in the passing game in the red zone is very important," Mariucci said. "Plays are going to be close. There's not going to be a lot of guys wide open. It's going to be tight fits and you've got to make the tough catch and the tight throw."

And the fit becomes even tighter when the opposing team knows there is no threat of a running game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 92 -- Total points the Lions have scored on 23 possessions inside the red zone. It is the fewest red zone points of any team in the NFL, on 10 touchdowns and seven field goals.


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