Special teams likely to play big role for Lions, Ravens
Allen Park — It’s easy to think of football as an offense vs. defense game, but special teams make up a huge portion of the pie. Approximately one out of every five snaps is a special-teams play, and when the Lions travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens, those could be some game’s most pivotal moments.
The Lions and Ravens boast two of the NFL’s best special-teams groups. It starts with the kickers, Matt Prater and Justin Tucker. The pair have nearly identical stats in 2017, with Prater making 24 of 27 field-goal attempts, with a long of 58 yards, while Tucker is 23 of 26, with a long of 57.
Each team also has above-average coverage units, quality punt returners and consistent long snappers. Football Outsiders, which statistically evaluates each component of special teams, ranks the Ravens as the best group in 2017. The Lions are No. 3.
“Our special teams are very important, and they play a big role, as you guys have seen,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “They change field position for you, in terms of defending and also in terms of attacking from the offensive standpoint, if you get a good return and things of that nature. So it’s always extremely important for us.”
Caldwell praised the detail-oriented teaching of coordinator Joe Marciano and the front office’s focus to adding committed performers to the units.
“There are sometimes people who just give that area lip service,” Caldwell said. “We don’t give it lip service.”
Caldwell said he learned the importance of special teams early in his career, from Rey Dempsey.
Dempsey, a former Lions special-teams coordinator, gave Caldwell his first position coach job in 1978, at the University of Southern Illinois.
“He was really ahead of his time in terms of the importance that he placed on special teams, how much time we spent on it,” Caldwell said. “I learned a great lesson way back when, when I first got it started, because they made a tremendous difference in our games.
“We had probably as many blocked kicks as anybody in the nation during his stretch,” Caldwell said. “We had real good return men. We had a guy named Kevin House that was an excellent return man. We just had a number of different facets, but we spent time on it. We worked at it, and the same thing here. We give it time. We don’t shy away from making certain that we’ve got what we need in that area.”