Last week, the Detroit Lions special teams were truly atrocious, giving up two return touchdowns that put their team in a hole that they couldn’t recover from.
Astonishingly, the special teams was even worse today, and it was the clear difference in a 20-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings didn’t even need to take an offensive snap in order to take the lead, with Percy Harvin’s 105-yard return straight on the opening kickoff. Minnesota scored nearly as quickly in the second half, their first touch of the ball resulting in Marcus Sherels 77-yard punt return touchdown.
With four return touchdowns allowed on the year, the worst in the NFL, and all four in the last two games alone, it doesn’t seem like it can get much worse for the Lions. Danny Crossman has a lot to answer for with the extremely poor play; and there might not be any suitable answers to save his job.
The special teams ineptitude wasted what was possibly the best defensive showing for the year by the Lions, who only gave up six points despite a notoriously porous secondary and allowing Adrian Peterson to run for nearly five yards a carry. The only stumbling block on the defensive side of the ball was an inability to maintain the upper hand in the field position battle; as the two field goals the Vikings scored on offense both came on long drives that started inside the Minnesota 10-yard line.
Offensively, the Lions continue to look like a team struggling to find an identity. San Francisco did indeed place the road map for future opponents to follow, as both Tennessee and now Minnesota followed that blueprint to the letter; setting both safeties, and even a linebacker on occasion, up to twenty yards downfield before the snap, declawing much of the Lions vertical passing attack that terrorized the league a season before.
But despite the deep zones being played in the secondary, the Lions have been inconsistent at best in establishing a running game. Even running against six or seven man fronts, Mikel Leshoure couldn’t repeat his performance against Tennessee, mustering only 26 yards; fourteen of which came on one run… that ended in a fumble lost to Minnesota.
Now at the quarter point in the season, the Lions look very little like the team that jumped out to a 5-0 start in the 2011 campaign. Instead, they look much like a team with far more questions than answers, and with little help on the horizon as the schedule toughens even further. Whatever the solution Jim Schwartz and the crew in Detroit come up with, something has to change and quickly.
Surprising Stat: In the last three weeks, the Lions have held a second half lead for a grand total of twelve seconds. Playing from behind that much is a tough hill to climb with a team bearing some significant questions both defensively and on special teams, especially since the Lions seem unable to fully capture the offensive firepower that led to four comeback victories in 2011.