COORDINATOR CUT-UP

Lions coverage units vastly improved from a season ago

Posted Oct 15, 2013

Rookie P Sam Martin is drawing attention for his big leg and ability to pin opponents, but the coverage units are performing well also

It's been well documented how well rookie punter Sam Martin is performing early on in his career.

Martin currently ranks third in the NFL (first in NFC) in punting average (48.9) and is fourth (third in NFC) in net punting (43.1). He is tied for second in the NFL (most in NFC) with 16 punts of 50-plus yards.

Martin has been good, but so too have the Lions coverage units.

The Lions rank third in the NFL in punt coverage, giving up an average of just 3.2 yards per return. The longest punt return given up by the Lions this year is 11 yards. which is the second shortest among all 32 teams (Seattle, 10).

"Every week you're going to get challenged in this league because there are a lot of very talented returners," Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego said.

"Sam is definitely the guy who drives it, with hang time and placement, but he'll be the first one to point out it's the other 10 guys on the unit that are working together to get the punt off and go get the guy down once it's launched."

Of Martin's five punts in Cleveland, the Lions limited Browns punt returner Travis Benjamin (last week's AFC Player of the Week) to three returns for minus-10 yards. Benjamin entered the game with 17 punt returns for an average of 15.1 yards.

"The punts have been a good team effort," head coach Jim Schwartz said. "Our gunners have covered well, our inside guys have covered well, the punt locations have been good, the hang time has been good."

The Lions have some longer and faster players on the coverage units, especially at the gunner position. Players like Darius Slay and Don Carey, among others, have performed well in that role.

Don CareyS Don Carey (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

"Most of the guys that are difficult to matchup on are guys that are fast, but have some size to them," Bonamego said. "Size plus speed equals power and they are able to push through traffic and get to an edge and win downfield."

In terms of kickoff coverage, Schwartz says gives a lot of credit to Martin.

"Honestly with our kick-off coverage, you can have 10 guys named (Jim) Schwartz out there with Sam (Martin) kicking it and a lot of those are touchbacks," he said.

"Not saying that we haven't done a good job because when they did decide to bring one out, we got them down at the 15-yard line. I think a lot of the credit there goes to Sam and his ability to hang the ball in and control with depth and also location. That has been a significant improvement and when teams have tried to bring it out, we have tackled them inside the 20 quite a bit."

Martin has kicked 32 of his 34 kickoffs into the end zone and has 20 touchbacks.

Bonamego also touched on a couple other points.

On the challenge Cincinnati poses on special teams:

"We have another challenge this week with the two-headed monster in (Brandon) Tate and Pacman Jones. I've known their special teams coach (Darrin Simmons) for a long time and I think they do a great job with their scheme and they are a very good core group, not just their returners, but also their cover guys. We'll be challenged again this week"

On the five holding penalties called on his punt return unit this year:

"That's five higher than we'd like. Our goal is to be penalty free. Some of it you can explain as technique. Some of it over aggressiveness. It will be addressed and continue to be addressed. Sometimes you get into a cycle and it becomes pretty competitive out there. When you commit fouls or multiple fouls you kind of label yourself, so the only way to reverse that is to go back and try to clean up your act a little bit."