Detroit Lions: Breaking Down the How the Titans Scored Twice on Special Teams

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 23: Dominic Raiola #51 of the Detroit Lions reacts following the instant replay review of a fourth down play in overtime against the Tennessee Titans during the game at LP Field on September 23, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans won 44-41. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While the Lions defense gave up some significant points, there were two significant breakdowns in the special teams units as well.

In one case, the team was completely taken by surprise, while the other was more of a direct breakdown.

We'll take a look at both and see what really happened.

First, some perspective. Of the seven other kickoffs the Lions had to manage, three were touchbacks, two were in the end zone and taken out 19 and 25 yards respectively, one was out of bounds and one a successful onside kick.

For punts, Ben Graham had the one punt returned, but the rest (by Jason Hanson) were not badly done or returned far.

With that in mind, let's look at the two big miscues. 

The first return for a touchdown was a repeat of the "Music City Miracle," which took place back on January 8, 2000 when the Titans stunned the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs.

It's a standard setup, just a relatively routine punt pretty early in the game. The Titans were continuing to struggle offensively and needed a spark, but nobody could have predicted the bat-poop crazy idea to replicate a play from 2000.

Wide receiver Darius Reynard received the ball at Tennessee's 37, drawing the majority of the Lions' coverage team to him and away from defensive back/special teamer Tommie Campbell, who was across the field towards the far sideline.

Once Campbell had the ball, he immediately turned upfield, where he had a clean line to run since the Lions were totally out of position.

The Titans had good position, as you can see, for their blocks and kept him well-protected as he made it downfield and into the end zone.

Could they have reacted quicker? Maybe, but that sort of play, as infrequent as it is, works because it's so totally out of left field. 

They can plan for it, perhaps account for someone like Campbell at every turn and still not totally be ready for it.

It was a crazy call by the Titans, which is exactly why it worked.

The second touchdown—a much bigger deal really given the nature of any 105-yard return—had far more go wrong.

One common factor with the "Music City Miracle redux" was the Lions getting sucked into one direction, while the ball went another.

As the Lions headed towards the ball-carrier in the end zone, the Titans did a nice job of setting up a blocking perimeter. Eight men who already clearly had their zones and targets mapped out, just like it's supposed to happen.

The Lions head straight into the middle of the field. I am not sure if they merely assumed the kick returner, Reynard again, is going to go straight up as if he had a wedge or if they lost sight of him (he's 5'9", it happens).

Regardless, as Reynard shifts to his right, picking up a blocker, most of the Lions are still going the wrong way and unlikely to recover in time to catch him.

It's impossible to know what was going through the minds of the special teams kicking unit. Were they fooled? Were they assuming where he was going?

The only truth is, almost all of them were out of position.

Save one poor soul who got in the way of a devastating block by rookie tight end Taylor Thompson. Thompson absolutely trucked the defender as he and another Titan escorted Reynard down the field.

None of the Lions had an angle on Reynard, and between that and the escort, nobody got close to him.

Coach's tape comes out tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see if anything else happened on the play, but it seemed as if the Lions were very aggressive in their pursuit of the kick and got caught in the wrong place because of it.

While the first return's very nature eases the criticism you can heap on the punt coverage unit, this one was a complete breakdown, assisted by a great block.

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