The Detroit Lions have had plenty of problems on the young season, not the least of which has been their performance on specialty teams. Detroit has struggled with the kickoff and punting game, and have not shored things up from that perspective to start the year. In fact, their start has been pretty statistically dreadful as well given some of the things that have played out on the field thus far.
Through the first few weeks, the Lions have had some of the worst breakdowns in the league in terms of special teams. They allowed a punt return for a score against the New York Jets, a big kickoff to change the course of the game against the San Francisco 49ers and while it didn’t cost them in their home victory over New England, mistakes were still made which gave the Patriots some decent field position at times. It’s been a hidden disadvantage for the Lions so far in the new season.
So far, the stats show the Lions as one of the league’s worst teams in terms of specialty squads. Detroit has allowed the most kickoff return yards in the NFL (350) and the second most yardage in terms of punts (151). And while Detroit is a middle of the pack squad in terms of their own returns, they’ve also had far too many block in the back penalties killing the solid returns they’ve been able to generate with Jamal Agnew. So the numbers show that there’s a major problem that the Lions must fix in terms of being able to stop big plays from happening and create them on their own.
In total, Football Outsiders ranks the entire Detroit special teams operation 30th in the NFL out of 32 teams. That’s a pretty ugly total to note, even though the season is still young.
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At times, Detroit’s defense has been criticized for allowing too many big plays and big runs. While that’s certainly been the case, there is hope that the Lions can tighten the screws here and get even better in terms of their play. There’s already been signs of that, with Detroit maintaining a solid pass defense and starting to figure things out to an extent up front. Offensively, some inconsistent play calling has cost the team at times, as have Matthew Stafford turnovers. But there’s enough talent there, like on defense, to find the right fixes in time.
Detroit’s biggest issue is quietly still special teams. As they’ve seen so far to start the season, a few gaffes there can turn around a game. If the Lions had been able to play better on returns in Week 1 and Week 2, the result of both those games could have been very different. Instead, the Lions were paralyzed by the big plays and ended up losing both games as a direct result of both.
Joe Marciano has to get things figured out, because the Lions can ill-afford his group to be a problem all season long. Typically, special teams are important for coaches like Matt Patricia, who understand their overall importance in the grand scheme. This places a major bit of pressure on Marciano to get things corrected in a hurry. The Lions have to play better up front and start to get their own return game going without the penalties.
While there’s been issues elsewhere, the Lions specialty teams have not been all that special. In fact, they’re one of the worst units in the entire league, statistically and otherwise. It’s a problem that has to be corrected, or the team will continue to struggle in key moments.