The Detroit Lions needed to create success in the margins this season, and the special teams unit came through rather nicely.
With a team that looked undermanned heading into the season and was further thinned by injuries throughout, the Detroit Lions had to find ways to compete in some hidden margins in 2021. Head coach Dan Campbell’s aggressiveness on fourth down is clear evidence of that.
Long-time NFL reporter Rick Gosselin has a niche he explores, and it’s special teams. He creates an annual ranking of the special teams units in the league at the end of each season, and his 2021 rankings are now out. Via Pride of Detroit, Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp cited his respect for Gosselin’s work back in December.
“I love Rick Gosselin,” “He does a great job, for years. I think the world of him. He’s reached out to me time-to-time. I have a lot of respect for the rankings that he does. I really mean that.”
Lions special teams ranked highly by Rick Gosselin
Gosselin ranked the Lions No. 7 in his 2021 special teams ranking, after they finished third in 2020 under the previous coaching staff. They were one of just four teams in the league who didn’t suffer any negative plays on special teams–no blocked punts, turnovers or return touchdowns. Most notably, the Lions ranked highly in two categories.
Punting, gross yardage: 49.2 (second-best). Jack Fox also finished sixth in the league in net punting (42.3 yards).
Opponent starting point: 23.8 yard-line (third-best)
Riley Patterson stabilized the placekicking for the Lions down the stretch, making 13-of-14 field goal attempts over seven games with his only miss a 55-yarder at the end of a first half. Wide receiver Kalif Raymond averaged a solid 11.2 yards per punt return (fourth in the league if he qualified, based on 1.25 punt returns per game).
The Lions also recovered three onside kicks and converted three fake punts this season, with Fox showing his passing prowess on two of those successful fakes.
Games are at times won and lost on special teams, the red-headed stepchild of the game’s three phases. The Lions’ broad-base success in that phase in 2021 is a credit to Fipp, and of course the players who did their jobs well and pulled off some fun extra things when called upon.