Outside of Jason Hanson, the Detroit Lions had a lot of issues on special teams last season. While the focus was primarily on the team’s coverage units, the team had more consistent problems punting.
The Lions finished dead last in punting average at 41.4 yards per punt and 30th in net punting average at 36.9 yards. The Lions knew they had a problem and invested a fifth-round draft pick in hopes of fixing it once and for all.
Sam Martin has battled a few consistency problems but through three preseason games it’s so far, so good for the Lions rookie.
Some might think “he’s just a punter, what’s the big deal?” Well, we got a look at “what’s the big deal” late in the first half of the Lions game against the New England Patriots.
The Lions took possession at their own 36-yard line with 1:56 remaining in the first half. Matthew Stafford found Brandon Pettigrew for a six yard gain on first down but two subsequent incompletions stalled the two-minute drill before it even got started. On came Martin to punt from his own 42-yard line, booming a beautiful high kick that Leon Washington chose not to field. Rather than bouncing into the end zone, the kicker took a left turn to go out inside the Patriots one-yard line.
Backed up to their own goal line, the Patriots did nothing but hand off to LeGarrette Blount three times. With ample time outs in hand, the Lions were able to stop the clock to get the ball back.
Despite Blount gaining a total of 7 yards and Zoltan Mesko with a long field in front of him in which he could have boomed a big kick, the Lions regained possession with 50 seconds remaining at their own 47-yard line. A couple passes later and David Akers was on to hit a 49-yard field goal.
It’s easy to credit the Lions defensive stand to get the ball back or blame the Patriots for being too conservative but the Lions likely don’t get those three points without Sam Martin.
This was an easy example of Martin’s worth because it led to points. It won’t always work that way but it doesn’t have to. Simply being able to flip field position with a solid punting game gives the Lions an advantage they didn’t have a year ago.