Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell says team hasn’t played best yet, eyes prize bigger than NFC North

Dan Campbell knows his Detroit Lions have already taken a big step forward. He wants them to take an even bigger one.

The 6-2 Lions lead the NFC North and have a chance at their first division title in 30 years, but Campbell thinks they are capable of challenging for a conference championship.

“We need to play our best football,” he said. “We have left so much out there and we’ve still played well enough to get six wins, but we need to take it up another notch.”

After spending the bye week studying the team, Campbell and his staff think they’ve found three significant areas of focus going forward.

“I think the obvious one is the turnover-takeaway ratio — we need to be better,” he said. “We need better red-zone production on both sides of the ball. There are a number of reasons behind that, but I’m not going to get into it. And then we need better third-quarter production from both sides.”

The Lions are even in turnover ratio — committing and forcing 10 — and have given up 11 third-quarter touchdowns while only scoring three.

In the red zone, they’ve scored touchdowns 48.1% of the time – 25th in the league – and rank 27th on defense at 65.4%.

“These are all things we can clean up, and a lot of this is just focusing on alleviating the mistakes,” Campbell said. “That will go a long way for us.”

What’s working for the Lions?

While Campbell has found some areas that need to improve, the Lions are still a 6-2 team that ranks second in yards gained (3,125) and fifth in yards allowed (2,375). The running game is even more impressive — they’ve put up 1,051 yards and 11 touchdowns while only allowing 614 and six.

What do the Lions need to fix?

Campbell pointed out three areas, but a fourth would be third-down conversions. On offense, they are at 40.7%, 13th in the league and almost 10 full percentage points behind the Eagles and Bills. That’s not a problem that extends to both sides of the ball, though. The defense is only allowing third-down conversions 32.6% of the time, trailing only Cleveland’s 26.0%.

Lions players’ stock going up

TE Sam LaPorta was a second-round pick out of Iowa, and the team was hoping he could fill some of the hole created by trading away T.J. Hockenson last season. LaPorta has done more than expected, catching 43 passes for 434 yards and four touchdowns, and has become Jared Goff’s second option after Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Players going down

This season was supposed to be the real rookie season for WR Jameson Williams, the 2022 first-round pick who lost most of last season to injuries. Instead, Williams missed the first four games due to a gambling suspension, and he has only caught six passes in the four games he has played. The bigger concern is that he has only caught 40% of the passes Goff has thrown his way, making him the only player on the roster below 50%.

Are injuries a problem?

A lot of Detroit’s offensive problems could be solved with the return of RB David Montgomery (ribs), OL Jonah Jackson (ankle) and C Frank Ragnow (toe). Campbell said they all took part in a light practice Monday and that he expects all of them to be involved in at least some of Tuesday’s full workout.

“They’ve been trending in the right direction for a while, so we are certainly hopeful.”

Key number

0 — The number of playoff games the Lions have hosted since Ford Field opened in 2002. In more than 20 years, the only quarterback with a postseason win at the stadium is Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

Who’s next?

The Lions will get focused on a struggling San Diego Chargers team instead of getting distracted by the surging Minnesota Vikings, who have won four straight and still have two games to play against Detroit.

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