Lions no longer struggling with their special teams

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 9, 2012 - 2:24 PM

The Lions' special teams have gone from abysmal to exceptional in four weeks.

Weeks before Christian Ponder's shoulders slumped and his confidence was questioned, the Vikings went to Detroit and amassed an anemic 100 net yards passing.

Don't remember griping about that one, eh?

Well, that's because the Vikings won 20-13. A 227-yard offensive output was swept aside because Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff a franchise-record 105 yards for a touchdown and Marcus Sherels added a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Six weeks later, things have changed. Harvin is unlikely to play because of a badly sprained left ankle, and the Lions' special teams coverage units have gone from historically awful to among the league's best over the past five weeks.

"They're not even the same special teams," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "They're playing so, so much better as a group across the board."

As Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer notes, this group isn't the same as the one the Lions had in September, when they became the first NFL team since at least 1940 to give up kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in consecutive games.

"The thing about the NFL is if some guys can't get it done, they bring in new guys," Priefer said. "But for the most part, they're doing the same things [schematically]. They're just doing them better. I think any time you get burned or a little bit embarrassed, you're going to come back and play a little bit harder. You're going to come out swinging."

Since that loss to the Vikings, Lions special teams coach Danny Crossman has changed four players on his kickoff team and three on his punt team. Starters were asked to chip in. Seventh-round pick Travis Lewis was moved from regular gameday inactive to replacing veteran Doug Hogue, who was released. Returner Stefan Logan is now on the kickoff team as well, young special teamer Ricardo Silva was added to the roster and Kassim Osgood has improved like a 10-year veteran should since missing a key tackle in that Vikings game.

"They seem to have a lot of new faces," said Sherels, the favorite to return kickoffs if Harvin can't play. "They've been playing fast and confident."

The numbers agree.

When the Lions limped into their Week 5 bye, they were last in the league in punt return coverage (27.3 yards per return) and 30th in kickoff return coverage (32.8). In the four games since their bye, the Lions are allowing 6.0 yards on 10 punt returns, with a long of 18; and 20.4 yards on 13 kickoff returns, with a long of 31.

"I would hope [we've improved] because we were at a low point," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "I think we've seen improvement from some young players, we've put some other guys in a few different positions and we stuck with our scheme."

Crossman deserves credit for not panicking. He went into that bye as the league's most likely assistant to be fired. Yet he never flinched.

"We're going to get it done," he told reporters at the time. "End of story."

A week later, the Lions went to Philadelphia and won 26-23 in overtime. The Eagles averaged 4 yards on three punt returns and 24.4 yards on five kickoff returns.

Even dangerous Philly returner DeSean Jackson lost 3 yards on his only punt return. A week later, Chicago's even more dangerous returner, Devin Hester, had one punt return for 5 yards.

In the Lions' past four games -- which also include victories over Seattle and Jacksonville and a loss to the Bears -- they have allowed only two kickoff returns beyond the 30-yard line. Both of them came at Philadelphia four weeks ago, and both of them were stopped at the 35.

Heading into their bye, the Lions ranked last in opponents' starting position following a kickoff (28-yard line). In the Lions' past four games, their opponents' average starting position following a kickoff is the 21-yard line.

"I've been embarrassed before and maybe I worked longer that following week," Priefer said. "You just demand a certain level of effort and expect them to play at a higher level when you do get burned."

  • related content

  • Hartman: Cris Carter says Vikings still have shot at playoffs

    Thursday November 8, 2012

     The former star wide receiver sees a lot to like on his old team, despite its recent struggles after a hot start.

  • Behind enemy lines: Detroit Lions

    Thursday November 8, 2012

    "Behind Enemy Lines" is a Thursday post on the Access Vikings blog. In advance of Sunday's Vikings-Lions game, Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune interviewed Dave Birkett, the beat writer...

  • Frazier hopeful Harvin will be able to practice, play

    Friday November 9, 2012

    Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he is hopeful Percy Harvin will be on the practice field Friday. The receiver, who leads the NFL in receptions with 62, missed his second...

  • The Minnesota Vikings' Marcus Sherels (35) returns a punt 77 yards for...


    Up next: Noon Sunday vs. Detroit

    Mall of America Field • TV: Ch. 9

    (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Atlanta - WP: S. Miller 5 FINAL
Toronto - LP: D. Norris 2
Chicago WSox - LP: J. Quintana 1 FINAL
Detroit - WP: S. Greene 9
Miami - LP: T. Koehler 6 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: M. Harvey 7
NY Yankees 5 Top 8th Inning
Tampa Bay 3
Philadelphia 1 Top 9th Inning
Washington 4
Baltimore 8 Bottom 7th Inning
Boston 3
Milwaukee 2 Top 9th Inning
Pittsburgh 5
LA Angels 2 Bottom 6th Inning
Houston 4
Cleveland 1 Bottom 7th Inning
Minnesota 7
Oakland 2 Bottom 6th Inning
Kansas City 1
San Diego 3 Bottom 6th Inning
Chicago Cubs 2
Arizona 2 Bottom 1st Inning
San Francisco 0
Colorado 0 Top 1st Inning
Los Angeles 0
Texas 0 Top 1st Inning
Seattle 0
Cincinnati - M. Leake 7:05 PM
St. Louis - A. Wainwright
Boston 54 3rd Qtr
Cleveland 62
Brooklyn 4:30 PM
Portland 7:00 PM
San Antonio 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Washington 1 FINAL(OT)
NY Islanders 2
Nashville 1 2nd Prd
Chicago 1
Montreal 6:00 PM
Vancouver 9:00 PM
New England 4:00 PM
Portland 6:00 PM
New York City
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters



Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9




question of the day

Poll: Where will Adrian Peterson be playing in 2015?

Weekly Question