Lions have time to correct special teams woes

Detroit Lions have time to correct special teams woes, but plenty to improve on

Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Detroit on Sunday.
Minnesota Vikings' Percy Harvin returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Detroit on Sunday.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — After two straight weeks of awful special teams, the Detroit Lions have a lot to correct.

As coach Jim Schwartz pointed out Monday, there's no one specific problem that's plaguing his team. In fact, it seems like each horrendous play can be blamed on a different type of breakdown.

Detroit allowed touchdowns on a kickoff and a punt return Sunday in a 20-13 loss to Minnesota. It was the second straight week Detroit gave up one of each — the first time that's happened in the NFL since at least 1940.

Minnesota's Percy Harvin ran the opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown, fielding the ball toward the back left of the end zone, cutting across the field and then sprinting up the sideline without being touched.

“We had poor reaction blocks, guys didn't get off blocks,” Schwartz said. “A couple poor fits. I mean, we didn't even lay a hand on the guy as he went down the field.”

In the third quarter, Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels was nearly hit immediately, but he made Kassim Osgood miss and then ran through traffic for a 77-yard TD.

“The next one was all missed tackles,” Schwartz said. “In opposite of the kickoff where there were a couple of guys that were out of position, on the punt there were a lot of guys that were in very good position, including our gunner. But all of them missed. I think we missed four tackles on that play.”

The Lions are off this weekend, so they'll have plenty of time to try to fix their poor kick coverage. Sunday wasn't a fluke. The previous weekend, in a 44-41 overtime loss to Tennessee, Detroit allowed a 105-yard kickoff return and a 65-yard punt return.

Poor kick location was blamed for the long kickoff return by the Titans, but Schwartz said that wasn't an issue on Harvin's runback.

“We've got two weeks to get it right. I'll do whatever it takes and the guys will, too,” kicker Jason Hanson said. “ I'm saying everyone. Last week I hit it on the wrong side and maybe we should cover, but I killed us.”

The Lions had allowed the only two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the NFL this year, entering Monday night's game. Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said he was confident Harvin could break a big play against the Lions if everyone held their blocks.

He was right, and the Vikings were able to win without scoring an offensive touchdown. On a day the Lions (1-3) didn't click offensively, Detroit couldn't afford to allow those two big plays.

“You only have 46 guys active during the game, so there are going to be some starters that are going to play on special teams and that's been this year, that'll be next year, it was last year,” Schwartz said. “That being said, everybody on the team has a job to do and whatever your job is you need to be able to accomplish it. We haven't done that the last couple weeks on special teams for a lot of different reasons. It hasn't been one thing that's continually come up. It's been four different breakdowns have led to four different scores.”

NOTES: Schwartz said the back injury that forced defensive end Cliff Avril to the sideline in the second half Sunday doesn't appear to be a long-term concern. ... The Lions play four of their next five games on the road.