After sifting through all sorts of data and reviews of special teams play, particularly pertaining to our beloved Leos, here are a number of things I learned:
1. There definitely was a step change in the level of play of the Lions special teams from 2009 to 2010. Up. Unfortunately, the same could be said for the level of play from 2010 to 2011, except in the opposite direction. I dug up Rick Gosselin's special team rankings for that time period and he had the Lions 25th in 2009, 15th in 2010 and 31st in 2011. By the way, he had Crossman's Panthers dead last in 2009. His rankings are confirmed by every other source [FootballOutsiders.com, PFF.com, and my own memory].
2. The Lions management [read Mayhew] devoted time and resources to upgrading talent specifically for the special teams. John Wendling, Stefan Logan, Rashied Davis, Isaiah E., and M. Stovall were all free agents who were considered specialists in that vein. You can throw in draft picks like Zach Follett and Ronnell Lewis that were believed to be able to contribute to special teams immediately. Kassim Osgood [if he sticks] is another FA of that ability. I believe it is fair to say that the Lions have attempted to acquire players to make the coverage and return teams better. The coaching staff has also not been afraid of making changes in personnel to try and get better.
3. Coach Crossman does not have the resume that I thought he had. When he was hired to replace Stan Kwan, I thought the Lions finally had a top notch special teams coach. After reviewing his results with Carolina, I don't see a high achiever. The performance of his special teams was generally in the bottom half/quartile of the NFL. A performance level he is continuing here in Detroit.
I think the clock is ticking on Coach Crossman. via t2.gstatic.com
4. There is plenty of room for improvement in virtually every unit of the ST group. We don't have a stellar group out of the five units that make up the special team. Unfortunately, outside of the punter selection, I don't see many changes that could significantly impact the performance of the special teams at this time. Maybe we just need to be patient and let the new guys work their way through their problems. Hopefully, without costing the Lions any games.
I really enjoyed doing this review as I do not normally look at special team stats or performance reviews of special teams. I think it gave me a better appreciation of all the parts of this group, and it is something I plan to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.
While special teams are important, I do not think it is as important as the offensive or defensive units. In general, the differences between good, average, and poor special teams are much smaller than those differences between offensive and defensive units. And their impact on the overall success of the team is much smaller than the other two units.
Once again, I would love to answer any further comments or questions. GO LIONS!!!