On Sunday, the Detroit Lions picked up their first blocked punt since 2007. Miles Killebrew broke through the Colts line and deflected the ball backwards, giving the Lions great field position. Just two plays later, Matthew Stafford connected with Marvin Jones Jr. to give Detroit an early 7-0 lead over Indianapolis.
Considering the last Lions player to log a blocked punt was Casey Fitzsimmons, I thought this would be a great opportunity to take a closer look at the play. How did it work? What did the Lions do or the Colts fail to do in order to set up this big play? Obviously, it didn’t turn the tide of the game completely, but in a more competitive game, this could have been a critical moment.
Here’s a closer look into the anatomy of a punt block.
The Lions screwed up
When this ball was snapped, the Lions were already at a huge disadvantage. This would become a theme throughout the day, but Detroit was clearly confused when substituting players in and out, and they actually only had 10 active players on the field when the ball was snapped. Look at Jayron Kearse (#42):
The Lions were outnumbered
As a result of the confusion surrounding Kearse, the Lions were outnumbered in their punt rush. Take a look:
The Lions were rushing seven, the Colts were blocking with eight. Now, this isn’t abnormal. There’s a very good chance if the Lions were completely set, they would’ve used Kearse (or whoever was supposed to be in) as additional help block the gunners. They had one on each side, but when a team is trying to set up a return, they often double team one gunner.
But the Lions were showing heavy pressure on the offense’s right side and got favorable numbers: four vs. four in that shaded region. However, the Lions would still need to create confusion. The punt happens way too fast for a player to simply beat their blocker and get to the punt. Special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs explained this perfectly on Tuesday.
“It’s really almost impossible to (block a punt) without some sort of error on behalf of the punt team. If everybody over there does their job, snappers and punters, they get the ball out too fast. It’s just tough. But that doesn’t mean you just throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘Well, we can’t do it, they’re going to do their job.’ For us it’s about creating pressure, moving things around, moving parts around, doing whatever we can to make an opponent perform in a high-pressure situation. Make it as difficult as they can to execute one, otherwise it’s a mundane procedure that they go through 25 times throughout the course of a week in practice. So, just trying to present different things to create confusion, create the potential for mistakes on their part.”
Enter: wrecking ball linebacker Jarrad Davis. For all of his faults, one thing that Davis can do is draw attention with his reckless speed up the middle. We’ve seen him do it in the pass rush, and we’re starting to see it on special teams. He, with an assist from Romeo Okwara, is the absolute key here to confusing the Colts and creating pressure.
Davis immediately comes at the snap, and it draws the attention of #37 right away. Okwara’s stunt is meant to hopefully draw the attention of #80. If successful, the Lions have a 3-to-2 advantage on the end, with only #58 and #20 left to block Jahlani Tavai, Miles Killebrew and Jamie Collins Sr.
That’s essentially what it does:
#37 commits to the middle, and while #80 is looking to his right to help out, he’s essentially helpless. #58 is taking care of Tavai, while Killebrew and Jamie Collins are too far away from him. Both players are now the responsibility of #20 alone. He opts, poorly, to take the outside guy (Collins), and it leaves Killebrew to run free.
#20 reaches out with a desperation attempt to slow Killebrew with one hand, but it’s fruitless. Credit also goes to Tavai for driving #58 backwards and away from Killebrew, opening up that huge rush lane.
Let’s put it all together now:
Everyone rush like hell
Coombs revealed a big coaching point when it comes to the punt block. He teaches everyone on that line to assume they’re the one that’s going to break free.
“You never know when it’s going to be you, whether the rush is designed for you specifically or not. Like we talk about pressure burst pipes. As we’re creating pressure for the opponent, it might be designed to hit on one side of the formation, but the way that it breaks down, it might be somebody totally unexpected that comes free. So that’s why it’s really important that all 11 guys are out there doing their jobs, got the pedal to the metal”
On a different rep, #20 may have decided to pick up Killebrew. Or maybe #37 wouldn’t have been distracted by Jarrad Davis. So it was absolutely essential that everyone on that line was gunning it, because you never know where that pipe is going to burst.
Either way, the Lions successfully created confusion—even while shorthanded. That’s exactly the kind of thing you love to see drawn up from a first-time special teams coordinator.