In quest for every edge, Lions challenge opposing kick returners
Allen Park — Many NFL teams are content to consistently boot their kickoffs into or out the back of the end zone, conceding a touchback and allowing the opposition to start at the 25-yard line.
Not the Lions.
Lions coach Matt Patricia places a premium on certain things. He wants his teams to be able to run the ball and stop the run, which allows them to control the tempo of each contest. He also wants his squads to be exceptional at covering kicks.
So instead of booming it deep each time, the Lions focus on ball placement and forcing a return, which is the primary reason opponents have brought back 15 of punter Sam Martin's 23 kickoffs this season.
In a Saturday news conference, Patricia listed several factors, including weather and the location of the sun or stadium lighting, as additional reasons to test a return man's ability to field and secure the ball.
So far the Lions' special teams unit has responded to the challenge. The team is holding opponents to 21.9 yards per kickoff return. That, along with outstanding punt coverage, has played a key role in the average starting field position of opponents.
According to data tracked by Football Outsiders, Detroit's opponents are starting their drives just beyond the 25-yard line, tied for fourth-best in the league.
Patricia acknowledged the coaching staff will always factor in the talent of the return man the team is facing each week and will adjust strategy accordingly. That seems unlikely to be an issue against Green Bay this week, where the team is averaging 22.7 yards on kickoffs and 0.3 yards on punts this season.