In this installment of my series on the Lions special teams play, I will look at the performance of the Kick Return unit. According to FootballOutsiders.com they had the Lions dropping from 7th best in 2010 to 17th in 2011.
Looking at the raw stats from NFL.com I found the following:
2010 - 24.9 YPR [4th best] , 1TD, and 1 fumble.
2011 - 24.0 YPR [T14th] , 0TD, and 2 fumbles.
Checking with ProFootballFocus.com, they had Logan ranked as the sixth best KR in 2010 and down to 15th in 2011.
On the face of it the numbers don't look that different, but again we see the rest of the league improving, and the Lions stepping back slightly. The same thing we saw with the FG/XP units.
Stefan Logan was the primary kick returner for the Lions both seasons. The kicks he did not return were returned by upmen on purposely short kicks. He averaged 26.3 YPR in 2010 [fifth best] and 25.2 YPR in 2011 [15th] among returners with more than sixteen returns. If you look at his stats here on NFL.com [
http://www.nfl.com/player/stefanlogan/2507547/careerstats ] you can readily see the impact of the change in kickoff position as Logan returned only 33 kicks in 2011, 60% of the number he returned in 2010 . I do not know if the lower number is due to Logan's decisions or Coach Crossman's instructions, but only five NFL teams returned less kicks than the Lions.
I do not know how much any changes in blocking personnel impacted this performance, but as always there was some turnover on this unit. One player missing from 2010 was our former Fullback, Jerome Felton. Offhand, I would be hard pressed to name any others or their potential impact on the unit.
As far as the eyeball test goes, I agree that the Lions kick returns were substantially worse in 2011 as compared to 2010. I just did not see the explosiveness that Logan showed in 2010, last year. Everyone knows there was a rule change regarding the kick offs, but it seems most other teams adjusted to the change better than the Lions and Logan. When I first thought about this series of FanPosts I assumed that Logan pretty much had a lock on the return job, but with his injury against the Ravens that may soon change. Personally, I don't think the Lions have any other good options. I was hoping one of the young guys would shine in this job, but it sure does not look that way right now.
I would be interested to hear from all of you if you have any ideas for improvement to the Kickoff Return team. ie. New returner, better blocking schemes, a different alignment? What do you think?