After the win on Sunday, it’s clear that the Detroit Lions missed Sam Martin, and their special teams need to be cleaned up for their future success.
Most great teams have decent special teams. At minimum, that unit does no harm and the team never has to worry about it. As all Detroit Lions fans know, the Motor City hasn’t had a great football team in nearly 60 years. If the Lions ever want to become champions again, they’ll at least need to improve upon their special teams play.
The Lions did end up winning on Sunday, beating the Arizona Cardinals 35-23. They finished the game beautifully, as the Cardiac Cats outscored the Cardinals 20-6 in the fourth quarter. But the Lions looked ugly early in this game, and the bulk of their problems occurred on special teams.
The Lions just looked flat out sloppy in the first quarter; Quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s pick six on his very first pass of the regular season made the game look bleak from the start. On their next drive, backup punter Kasey Redfern fumbled the snap, not giving him enough time to punt, causing him to try and scramble for a first down. Not only was he not successful, he fumbled out of bounds on the play and was injured on the hit, not returning for the rest of the game.
Thanks to a tough stand on a quick change by the Lions defense, this catastrophic play led to an Arizona field goal, putting the Lions in a 10-0 hole to no one to blame but themselves. It was about the worst possible start to the 2017 season as anyone could imagine.
This wasn’t the only special teams mishap for the Lions in the game. Running back Dwayne Washington did a poor job returning kicks in the beginning, including one 13-yard return that drew laughs from most of the Lions fans I was watching the game with.
Backup quarterback Jake Rudock had to hold for the extra points in place of the injured Redfern, and he did not do a great job. After the Lions’ first touchdown, Rudock dropped the snap, and attempted to scramble on the play. Like Redfern, he was also not successful.
As the old cliche goes, you don’t know what you got until its gone. That is indeed the case with Pro Bowl punter Sam Martin, who has been out all preseason with an ankle injury and didn’t play in Sunday’s win.
Now, I’m not saying the Lions didn’t play well. They played great after the shaky start, as Stafford threw for four touchdowns and the defense forced four turnovers, including a pick six of their own from safety Miles Killebrew that sealed the win.
But the Lions cannot start out this bad in every game if they want to even sniff the playoffs. Good teams (or at least teams better than the Arizona Cardinals) are going to capitalize on sloppy starts like the one on Sunday, so the Lions need to clean up those mistakes as soon as possible.
The Detroit Lions may never change their reputation of being lovable losers. But in order to shed that, the team needs to shake it off and clean up their sloppy starts for good. If a terrible beginning happens like that in the playoffs, the Lions will find themselves exiting in the first round yet again.