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Detroit Lions analysis: Hockenson reminded he's a rookie

Rookie TE not near debut highs

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 22: Johnathan Cyprien #37 of the Philadelphia Eagles tackles T.J. Hockenson #88 of the Detroit Lions during their game at Lincoln Financial Field on September 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

We probably should've seen this coming.

After setting the record for most receiving yards by a rookie tight end in Week 1, TJ Hockenson has largely disappeared from the passing game.

Obviously, opposing teams saw his Week 1 performance and have adjusted accordingly. But, it still seems like he hasn't made much of an impact. In Week 3 against Philadelphia, Hockenson had just one catch for one yard on four targets. 

Hockenson has also picked up some false start penalties and even had some drops. These are all reminders that he's a rookie with less than a month of his career under his belt.  

Let's go over some notable plays from Week 3 and then look to see how the Lions might get Hockenson involved against the Kansas City Chiefs this week. 

Missed TD in the first quarter 

The score is 10-7 Eagles at the start of the second quarter. On a play action pass at the one-yard line it looks like TJ gets free in the back of the endzone and makes a nice catch for a touchdown. However, he's ruled to have stepped out of bounds before he catches the pass, making it incomplete. 

Hockenson was lined up as the left tight end. He runs an out route to the back of the endzone, and he's not open. Stafford waits, and while Hockenson moves into free space he's nudged out-of-bounds by the defender. A little more awareness or strength from Hockenson and that's a touchdown.  

This didn't come back to hurt the Lions as they ended up scoring a touchdown on the next play. 

Dropped touchdown

It's 20-17 Lions late in the third quarter when it looks like TJ has another touchdown, but he can't finish the play.  

The Lions have the ball at the Eagles' 12-yard line. Hockenson lines up again as tight end on the left side of the line, this time with Logan Thomas and Jesse James lined up to his right on the line. The Lions run a play-action fake and Hockenson runs towards the corner before breaking his route towards the post. He has inside leverage on his defender, using his body to block off that defender and giving Stafford a place to throw the ball.

TJ really does everything right except finish the catch. It ends up being ripped out of his hands by the defender. 

The Lions were able to bounce back from that drop and ended up scoring a touchdown later in the drive to extend their lead. 

The Little things 

In the run game, Hockenson seems to be doing an okay job of blocking. Last week, he made most of his blocks but did miss a couple, allowing his blocker to disrupt the play or make the tackle.

Hockenson's run blocking ability was one thing that made him so highly valued as a college prospect, so it's definitely something to keep watching over the next few weeks. 

He hasn't been a liability, but he hasn't been perfect, nor would you expect him to be. Fans will continually be watching the Lions' run game as it doesn't seem to be clicking all the way just yet. Hockenson can help bring that running game to the next level, and run blocking is a big part of his job. 

Another ‘little thing' to mention is penalties. Hockenson had a couple of false starts in Week 2 and 3. Those are drive killers. While he is a rookie, a false start is inexcusable. 

How to get Hockenson going against Kansas City 

First, keep running the ball. That's a huge part of setting up pass plays, especially in this Lions' offense. Keeping Hockenson in as a blocker on run plays helps him blend in during play action passes. 

Another thing the Lions might try to do with Hockenson is more quick passes. His one catch in Week 3 was a short out route. If they want to get him the ball more, you would expect more of those routes. 

Lastly, look for him in the middle of the field and in the red zone. Two of Hockenson's four targets last week were passes into the end zone.