Now we get to the real problem areas[IMO]. Let's take a look at the kick off coverage unit in this post.
Yeah, those are our guys. Eight yards away from the returner. Not good.
And relying on Jason Hanson to bring down the returner? Hanson's poor tackling skills have been a much debated topic here on the POD.
So, kick off coverage. Because of the rule change, this one comes with a huge caveat. It is difficult to compare coverage statistics. For instance, in 2010 roughly 95% of all Lion kickoffs were returned. That dropped to 51% in 2011. That was good for 20th best across the NFL.
FootballOutsiders.com had the Lions ranked as the 17th best KO coverage team in 2010, then dropping them to 30th in 2011. ProFootballFocus.com had Rayner and Hanson ranked 27th on kickoffs in 2010, and Hanson 9th in 2011.PFF don't rank the coverage teams separately.
Here are some of the raw data from NFL.com and PFF;
2010 - Ave. Return = 20.7 yards with one TD. Ave start position = 27 yard line. NFL best was the 22. 3 touchbacks.
2011 - Ave. Return = 25.6 yards and one TD. Ave. start position = 21.6 yard line. NFL best was 18.5. 44 touchbacks.
The stars of the KO coverage teams were Wendling, Palmer, and Carpenter in both of those years. Felton and CC Brown were positive contributors in 2010 and Carey and Stovall were in 2011. I used PFF rankings and special teams KO Coverage tackles for that.
I don't know about you, but I found the data somewhat contradictory. It sure looks like the Lions benefited greatly by the rule change here as their opponent was pushed back inside the 22 yard line in 2011, as opposed to the 27 yard line in 2010.Even though the return average was much worse, the combination of touchbacks and fielding the ball five yards deeper had a positive impact for the Lions. Once again, the drop in standings might be more of the rest of the league moving ahead of the Lions rather than the Lions getting substantially worse.
NOTE: I could not find an average start yard line for the Lions on KO returns. Weird.
My eyeball test tells me that the Lions were generally poor both years. I don't know if it is force of habit but I generally closed my eyes or went to the kitchen when the Lions kicked off.
They have looked even worse this preseason, although historically the Ravens and Browns are two of the better kick returning teams. As far as suggestions for improvement, I was hoping that the Lions would improve this performance by injecting some youth and speed on the coverage team by adding the Lewis brothers, and Whitehead not to mention one or two of the back up Safeties and CBs. The pick up of Karim Osgood was a positive move, although that would signal the replacement of one of the "better" special teamers in Stovall.
I am hoping that a part of the issue is getting the rookies better used to playing at the NFL level. The tackling has been very poor. I also think the "loss" of Wendling to the defence has also hurt this squad. Although having Wendling playing on the defence at his current level, is a positive for the team overall. Someone needs to step up from the rookies and the second stringers.
I looked at the Panthers kick coverage in 2009, and it was pretty miserable. Worse than the Lions based on a starting yardage just a yard better, but a kicker who had one third of his kicks as touchbacks. The Lions had about 5% of the kicks that year as touchbacks. That tells me that the coverage of returned kicks was worse. Yep, just under 25 YPR for that team.
So, in summary, I don't think our kicker [Hanson] is the problem..outside of his poor tackling [Ha Ha]. The need for improvement is for better cover people. Whether that problem is poor discipline, poor tackling, lack of speed, or what have you, I can't really say. Coach Schwartz has indicated a displeasure with the quality of the players on the coverage team, but has not defined the problem. I wish some of these media types would talk to Crossman. I would love to hear what he has to say.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment and question.