The poor play of the Detroit Lions special teams units has rightly drawn a lot of attention over the past two weeks. Becoming the first team since at least 1940 to give up kickoff and punt return touchdowns in consecutive weeks is a pretty strong indication that something is very wrong.
The typical knee-jerk reaction was on full display when fans and media alike called for the firing of special teams coordinator Danny Crossman. That is at least partly fair based on Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier’s post-game comments that the Vikings expected to score on a kickoff after what they saw on film. If the Vikings were able to identify a big problem, why wasn’t it fixed?
In Crossman’s defense, the punt return for a touchdown was all about breakdowns on the individual level. Kassim Osgood was brought in for as a veteran presence on special teams but it was his missed tackle that allowed Marcus Sherels to break free after a questionable decision not to fair catch the punt. A couple more missed tackles later and Sherels was in the end zone. That’s not on Crossman.
Who is ultimately to blame and what is the fix?
I don’t sit in on meetings between Detroit Lions coaches and I never played on an NFL special teams unit so when situations like this come up I try to rely on those with more insight.
Zack Follett was a special teams monster during his time with the Detroit Lions so his tweet about the Lions special teams on Sunday afternoon caught my eye:
Dang. Special teams comes down to attitude and No one on the Lions wants to be on ST and this is the result
— Zack Follett (@ZakarianFollett) September 30, 2012
There are a couple keywords notably absent from Follett’s critique; things like “coaching” and “Danny Crossman”. It is unclear if Follett’s assertion that “non one on the Lions wants to be on special teams” is a result of direction knowledge of players’ feelings or if it his opinion based on body language and swagger on the field but it doesn’t matter in this case, it’s an attitude problem either way.
Without individual buy-in and a proper attitude, what does scheme matter? It doesn’t, at least not much. Attitude and desire is the first building block, scheme is the second. It is quite possible the Lions will make some roster moves during their bye week, especially when it comes to special teams. Hopefully that, combined with some soul searching of those who stay, will be enough to put the attitude issue to rest. Then it can determined if Danny Crossman’s coaching is really an issue.