ALLEN PARK - What used to be an asset for the Detroit Lions is quickly turning into a liability. Detroit's special teams unit, usually one of the best in football has struggled to give the team good field position and worse, has been lacking on the cover teams, giving up field position.
Case in point: Against the Chicago Bears, Detroit knew it was likely to be a close, hard-fought game where field position would be paramount.
While Detroit's punter Nick Harris came up with some good plays including a 59-yard punt that pinned the Bears at their 1-yard line and another 39-yarder that was downed at the Chicago 2-yard line, he gave up three others that were poor. One punt sailed out of bounds at the Detroit 35-yard line after traveling just 17 yards. That punt led directly to a Chicago field goal five plays later.
Much of that field position was due to poor coverage on kick returns. Chicago's Jerry Azumah returned four kickoffs for 122 yards, a 30.5 average. While the Bears didn't always take advantage of it, they played on a short field for much of the game because of Azumah's returns to the Detroit 48-yard line and the Detroit 43-yard line.
Even the nearly automatic Jason Hanson missed a field goal attempt in yesterday's game.
Lions head coach Steve Mariucci noted that the unit must improve.
"We had a couple of punts that went off our foot and that sort of thing too," said Mariucci. "We covered well at the end when we needed to several times and hit a couple of field goals that we needed. Field position is huge, and it always will be. That's an area we look at and try to get the right guys on there, do the proper thing, use the proper techniques, squeeze to the ball and cover like crazy.
"It's all about field position, and you're right, it needs to be better."
Returner Eddie Drummond says he can't put his finger on what the problem is with the unit.
"I'm not sure. Just moment of the game where they were very prepared - we were very prepared too, but they just sometimes have an edge some way in just making good block. Azumah's a good returner. Their punt returner is pretty good, too. We had a couple of shanked punts, the littlest thing with special teams can make a good play or a bad play."
How do they get it fixed?
"Compared to last year there's several differences in personnel [and] the schemes are a little different," said Drummond. "At the same time, we should be on top, just like last year, with our special teams. We're going to have to find a way, maybe its get in the classroom a lot more, maybe its more practice time or something like that, but we're going to have to find a way to pick this up because we're always a good special teams unit and we have to get back on top."