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A closer look at Joe Marciano's special teams units

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Were Joe Marciano's special teams units with the Houston Texans as bad as some people have suggested? Let's see what the numbers have to say.

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

With John Bonamego being named the new Central Michigan head football coach, the Detroit Lions have reportedly hired Joe Marciano as their new special teams coordinator. Marciano is a veteran when it comes to coaching special teams, as he's been doing this job since the 1980s. He was most recently the interim special teams coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, and he was with the Houston Texans from 2002-13 before that.

Although Marciano has lots of experience, the reviews he's received from Texans fans have been quite negative. As a result, there's been a lot of concern over the Lions hiring him, but do the numbers back up those negative reviews? Let's take a look at where Marciano's special teams units have placed in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings over the years. (Note: Since Marciano was only the interim special teams coordinator of the Vikings for a limited amount of time, I'm not going to include any rankings for them.)

Houston Texans

Year Texans DVOA ranking Lions DVOA ranking
2002 8 2
2003 7 4
2004 28 5
2005 2 32
2006 22 7
2007 3 23
2008 17 15
2009 7 31
2010 23 11
2011 13 29
2012 32 30
2013 29 20
2014 (post-Marciano) 28 31

Just based on rankings alone, Marciano's tenure in Houston seemingly got off to a decent start. From 2002-11, his units had an average ranking of 13.0. By comparison, the Lions' average ranking over that time was 15.9.

Things went downhill quite a bit in Marciano's final two years with the Texans, though. His units ranked 32nd and 29th in 2012 and 2013, bringing his overall average ranking down to 15.9 for his 12 seasons in Houston. The Lions, by comparison, had an average ranking of 17.4 over those 12 seasons.

It should be noted that last season, with Marciano no longer in Houston, the Texans still only ranked 28th in special teams. The Lions were actually even worse thanks to their inability to make field goals for the first part of the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Year Buccaneers DVOA ranking Lions DVOA ranking
1994 (pre-Marciano) 9 16
1995 (pre-Marciano) 15 28
1996 7 16
1997 12 14
1998 8 10
1999 8 7
2000 13 6
2001 17 9
2002 (post-Marciano) 9 2
2003 (post-Marciano) 32 4

Marciano's special teams units in Tampa had an average ranking of 10.8. That was a slight improvement from the two years before his arrival and a massive improvement compared to what happened in the second season after he left.

The Lions' special teams rankings from 1996-01 were actually quite similar to the Bucs, as Detroit had an average ranking of 10.3.

New Orleans Saints

Year Saints DVOA ranking Lions DVOA ranking
1989 5 2
1990 1 19
1991 23 8
1992 21 1
1993 3 5
1994 25 16
1995 18 28
1996 (post-Marciano) 26 16
1997 (post-Marciano) 11 14

Before we get to New Orleans' rankings, it's important to note that Football Outsiders' data doesn't go all the way back to 1986, which is when Marciano first joined the Saints. It's also worth noting that Marciano was both the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach from 1986-94. He only focused solely on special teams in New Orleans in 1995.

Anyway, Marciano's special teams units with the Saints had an average ranking of 13.7 from 1989-95. The Lions' average ranking over that time was 11.3.

Recap

Just based on average ranking alone, it's clear that Marciano isn't an elite special teams coordinator or anything like that. If you go off of the above data from his three different stops, his units had an average ranking of 14.1 from 1989-2013. The Lions averaged a nearly identical 14.0 over that time. Not awful, but not great.

What is more concerning is that Marciano's units in Houston had an average ranking of 24.3 in his final four seasons with the Texans. His final two seasons in particular were quite bad, and perhaps that's an indication that the game has passed him by. It's a legitimate concern, especially when coupled with what Texans fans have had to say about him.

Of course, the flip side is that there are a lot of variables in play when it comes to special teams. You have to consider the talent available to the special teams coordinator, things out of his control like kickers missing field goals and returners muffing punts and other factors like that. Some of those things could actually be coaching issues (the coordinator not benching an ineffective returner, for example), but a lot of times mistakes on special teams are outside of the coordinator's control.

In any case, the stats on Marciano's recent special teams units aren't encouraging, and neither are the stats for the Lions. They haven't been consistently good in that area of the game for some time now, and on paper, it certainly doesn't seem like Marciano is the man to turn things around. Then again, with a promising young punter and Matt Prater wanting to return next season, Marciano should have a solid base of players to build around. The more important thing will be figuring out how to improve the return units after Jeremy Ross struggled so much in 2014.