Struggling Special Teams Play Give the Lions Their Third Loss of the Season

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Struggling Special Teams Play Give the Lions Their Third Loss of the Season
Dave Reginek/Getty Images
Matthew Stafford gets sacked in Sunday's loss to the Vikings.

It doesn’t take much of an expert to see that the Detroit Lions are not themselves. After starting last season 5-0, the Lions have since gone 6-10—including their playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints.

There are a few noteworthy elements to point out in assessing this disappointing start, the first of which is the coaching. On both sides of the ball, four weeks in, there have been few to no scheme adjustments made. 

On defense, Gunther Cunningham has shown no creativity in blitzing. The same vanilla pass rush from the Lions’ (so-called) superstar-laden defensive line has produced abysmal results thus far into the season as well. Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and company have been non-factors a quarter of the way into this season.

On offense, Scott Linehan has had the same lethargic offensive game plan week after week and has done nothing to address the two deep safeties every team has thrown the Lions’ way. These schemes don’t allow the Lions to stretch the field, but nothing is being completed in the middle of the field where there are defensive holes.

There are also two huge issues that I see in regards to special teams. First of all, Jason Hanson’s line-drive kickoffs give the Lions’ unit no time to cover their lanes to bottle up opposing return men. By the time Lions’ special team unit hustles down the field, the returner is already near the 20-yard line with all of his blockers in place.

As a result of this, coverage has to abandon their usual duties and scramble to the ball-carrier. After one or two “fleet-of-foot” moves by the returner, he only has to make one man miss and there is nothing but daylight—and the end zone—in front of him.

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All of this needs to change.

 

How many more weeks will it take before we see some adjustments in these schemes? Where is the accountability?

I can’t say that all of the blame lies on the coaches. There have been plenty of opportunities for the Lions to turn these losses into victories. Dropped pass after dropped pass, missed tackle after missed tackle—it all adds up. The fundamentals of this game are eluding this Lions team and they are paying dearly for it.

Here are a few other observations about the Lions so far this season:

At 1-3, Detroit sits at the bottom of the NFC North.

If it weren’t for special-teams touchdowns, the Lions would be 3-1.

Matthew Stafford suddenly throws 50 percent of his passes side-armed.

Brandon Pettigrew is the poster child of the team that boasts the most drops in the NFL so far this season (12).

Mediocre teams are making the Lions look less than mediocre.

While the season is not yet completely lost for Detroit, the upcoming schedule would say otherwise. After next week’s bye, the Lions are at Philadelphia and at Chicago—likely two more losses—not to mention games against the Houston Texans, resurgent Arizona Cardinals, the (seemingly unstoppable) Atlanta Falcons, two upcoming games against Green Bay, and the finale, again, versus Chicago.

This is shaping up to be a rough year for the Lions, and at this rate they could be looking at a five- or six-win season.

The season needs to turn around quickly in Motown, or it’s likely to slip away faster than Charles Rogers’ pro football career. 

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