This post is part of a series. Click here for the introduction. Click here for part 1. Click here for part 2. Click here for part 3. Click here for part 4.
Time to wrap up this look at the Lions. We started with ownership, checked in on the front office, talked coaches, and looked at both offense and defense. All that remains is special teams and some predictions. Onward!
One of the bright spots of the early part of the season for Detroit was the play of the special teams. According to Rick Gosselin (apparently he has been ranking special teams for 40 years and covering the NFL for 49 for the Dallas Morning News), the Lions had the 3rd best overall special teams unit in the league. Here is a link to Sports Illustrated’s article on si.com about his 2020 rankings. Some highlights include blocking 4 kicks (1st in the league), net punting (44.8 yards, good for second), and opponent net punting (36.2, also 2nd). Of course, the Lions were the only top 6 team in these rankings who did NOT make the playoffs. Still, great year on special teams! Nothing to worry about with this unit, so we can move…wait, what’s that? The great young special teams coach who lead them to such success in his first year got fired in December? That can’t be right! What is this, the Detroit Lions? Ah, so it is, then? Ok, that all checks out. Yup, on December 20th, against the Titans, Brayden Coombs ran a fake punt without the knowledge of interim head coach Darrell Bevell (it did not succeed, by the way). And on December 21st, he was fired. When interviewed about the firing, Bevell wouldn’t confirm or deny that this has happened before, which makes me think it probably has. I guess a lot of the special teams players weren’t too happy he got fired and I’m sure he’ll get another chance in the NFL, where results always leads to forgiveness (right, Antonio Brown?).
It’s too bad; the special teams were good enough that we were couch lobbying for him to be named the interim head coach when Patricia got fired, which just goes to show the absurdist comedy that is the Detroit Lions. Who knows if Dave Fipp, Coombs’ replacement, will have the same success. What I CAN say is that this is the most Lions way possible of being good at something. Let’s look at the specialists going into next year.
Jack Fox had an absolutely great first year as an starting NFL punter. He was undrafted out of Rice in 2019 and spent time on a few practice squads before earning his chance during training camp last year. He averaged 49.1 yards per punt (4th in the league) and 44.8 net punting average (2nd), which earned him a Pro Bowl appearance (well, not an appearance because they didn’t actually play the game, but still) and was named second team All-Pro. Punter is one position that is looking good for foreseeable future. Placekicker, however is a question mark. Matt Prater, who finally managed to move up from “Not Hanson” to “Prater” among our watching party, was signed by the Arizona Cardinals. Veteran Randy Bullock was brought in on a one year deal to replace him, but you can’t help but consider this a downgrade.
The evergreen Don Muhlbach, now 39, returns as the long snapper. He’s one of the best in the league, has made 2 Pro Bowls (2012 and 2018), and has been with the team since 2004. Punt returns will see some changes with Jamal Agnew moving on to the Jacksonville Jaguars (Bortles!). Samesies for kick returns, but with kickoff returns slowly disappearing from the game, all you really need is somebody sure handed who doesn’t insist on bringing the ball out of the end zone when a touchback is available. I don’t consider this to be a key position anymore.
Well, I guess it’s prediction time. As far as 2021 is concerned, it’s about finding out what’s going on at QB. Is Goff the answer? If so, there could be a quick turnaround if the braintrust has a great draft. I suspect Brad Holmes tipped his hand by not franchise tagging Kenny Golladay (who would have been very helpful to Jared Goff), so I think there will be a some more bottoming out ahead. The schedule isn’t finalized yet (there’s talk of a London game), but it looks like it won’t be the easiest, with the NFC West and the AFC North each having several strong teams. The move to 17 games has been made official, so I’m going to predict a final record of 5 and 12. Maybe beat 2 out of the Atlanta/Philadelphia/Cincinnati/Denver group and get 2 wins from the 6 division games. There will probably be one surprising win in there as well. If all goes perfectly, competing for that 14th playoff spot is a possibility, but I’m not sure I can muster that much optimism after the three year long train-wreck we just experienced. I am, however, optimistic about 2023. I think this new regime has at least the playoffs in its future. I’ll say 11-6 and a playoff win in 2023. Yes, it will be hilarious looking back at this prediction in 3 years, but you have to hope, right? Otherwise what’s the point? Ok, that’s a wrap on the Lions, next up: the Detroit Tigers!