There were certainly some highlights from the Detroit Lions’ 26-17 victory over the New York Jets on Friday, such as Ziggy Ansah’s pick-six off Mark Sanchez. Interesting enough, if you listened to national media, you’d swear Sanchez threw an interception to himself as all the focus (as it usually is) was on a New York athlete failing rather than a rookie making a remarkable play in his first series as a pro.
There were low-lights as well, perhaps most notably Matthew Stafford‘s struggles. Stafford often has to endure people, including some fans and media members in Detroit, watching for him to fail so they can say, “see—see, he’s not ELITE,” and while he did have issues on Friday (3 for 8 for 58 yards), he only played in two series. It’s not uncommon for any quarterback to struggle in a couple series during the game, but do well the rest of the way.
A longer sample size in the coming games should be more telling about Stafford. Don’t push the panic button just yet.
One impressive facet was the kicking game. Each of the kickers (David Akers and Havard Rugland) and each of the punters (Sam Martin and Blake Clingan) were very strong.
After bidding farewell to retiring Jason Hanson, the franchise’s long-time, consistent, and fan favorite kicker, Detroit added arguably the best veteran on the market in Akers. The team also tried something out of the box by signing YouTube sensation, Rugland A.K.A. “Kickalicious,” to push the veteran for the job.
Akers struggles were well-documented last season. In Week 1, he kicked a 63-yarder for San Francisco in Green Bay to tie the NFL record, but struggled the rest of the way, hitting on just 69 percent of his kicks. He did right the ship for the Super Bowl, going 3-for-3 on the big stage. His struggles a season ago have been chalked up to playing injured, but he now appears to be healthy. Akers was 2-for-2 in field goals Friday, including a 47-yarder.
Rugland nailed both of his field goals as well, from 49 and 50. It was his first time playing in a football game and he handled it perfectly. It will be an interesting position for the Lions if both continue to play well. Usually in these cases a team will go with the veteran, so Rugland will need to continue to impress and somehow distance himself from Akers for a chance at kicking for the Lions in Week 1.
Over on the punting side, Martin and Clingan had three opportunities each, finishing with an average of 43.7 and 43.3 yards per attempt respectively. This represents a stark improvement from the pair the Lions employed last year (Ben Graham and Nick Harris), that were statistically the worst two punters in the league.
Barring an injury from Martin, Clingan probably has no chance of winning the job. Detroit invested a fifth-round draft pick on Martin and expect him to be their punter for years to come.
Martin’s selection mid-way through the draft was not popular among some Lions fans, but he is showing it might be a good pick. In addition to punting, he will likely be expected to handle kickoffs. He achieved touchbacks in each of his three kickoffs–a huge positive considering all the touchdowns Detroit’s special teams allowed a year ago.