Lions patiently waiting for chances to pounce in return game
If there's one area the Detroit Lions have been stellar in during the 2020 season it's on special teams.
Jack Fox has been the best punter in the NFL, the coverage units have been steady, the Lions have blocked three punts and Matt Prater put his early-season struggles behind him by making a pair of 50-plus yard field goals this past Sunday, including a 59-yard game-winner as time expired.
But one area of the special teams that's lagged a little behind has been the return game. That's not to say the Lions have been bad, but more middle of the road, averaging 10.3 yards on punts and 22.7 yards on kickoffs.
And a big part of that, according to first-year coordinator Brayden Coombs, has been a lack of opportunities. Through nine games, the Lions have only been able to bring 14 kickoffs out of the end zone, while the punt returners have only had the space to field eight punts.
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Only the Green Bay Packers have fewer combined returns.
"I definitely get champing at the bit a little bit, and want to be out there making plays to help the team," Coombs said. "But the biggest thing is just being patient. The last thing you want to do in any sports is press, because that's kind of when you usually open yourself up to vulnerabilities. So we just got to keep being patient, let the game come to us."
And things might get better this week. As Coombs pointed out, Sunday's opponent, Carolina, also prefers to send kickoffs out the back of the end zone. Of their 53 kickoffs, 45 have resulted in a touchback.
Additionally, the Lions top two return men are banged up. Jamal Agnew has missed the past two games with a rib injury, while Danny Amendola was forced to exit Sunday's win over Washington with a hip injury.
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Fortunately for the Lions, they're extraordinarily deep with experienced return options. Up next would be Marvin Hall, the dynamic deep threat who has handled 32 kickoffs and punts during his brief pro career.
"We're definitely fortunate to have another option there we feel confident in, not just going out there and being able to field kicks and catch punts, but still being able to go out there and make plays," Coombs said. "Obviously we always want to be as close to full strength as we can, but definitely good to have guys who are ready to step in and seize opportunities if they come."