After watching game film of the Lions over the last month, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said the Lions team he and his Vikings played Sept. 30 looks very different from the one they’ll face Sunday at the Metrodome.
Frazier pointed to the Lions’ rushing attack as being much improved, but also talked about their upgraded play on their special teams coverage units.
“They’re not even the same special teams by any means,” he said.
That’s a good thing for the Lions because that Week 4 matchup with the Vikings was the low point for their special teams units.
Coming off a loss to the Titans the week prior when the Lions had given up kickoff and punt return touchdowns, they had an unfortunate case of deja vu against the Vikings.
Minnesota took the opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown and later returned a punt for a touchdown in a 20-13 victory. They were the only two touchdowns the Vikings scored in the game.
The Lions became the first team in NFL history to have back-to-back games where they gave up both a kickoff and punt return touchdown in the same game.
“We were at a low point,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz admitted of his special teams after that Vikings game.
Since the Vikings game, though, opponents are averaging just 5.8 yards per punt return and 17.7 yards per kickoff return, with no touchdowns.
“They’re playing so, so much better as a group across the board,” Frazier said. “They’re a different special teams unit than the one we faced early in the season. They’ve made some dramatic changes that have worked out well for them.”
The changes haven’t been as dramatic as Frazier might think.
They haven’t changed their scheme or added a bunch of different players. Instead, the Lions changed a few roles inside the scheme and have had the benefit of a few young players gaining much-needed experience.
“We’ve kept the same schemes but a couple guys have moved around here and there,” Schwartz said. “The one (punt return touchdown) that we gave up (vs. Vikings), you know,
"A couple other guys missed tackles. That’s not going to happen a lot in the NFL. We fit the return the wrong that Percy Harvin broke on the first play of the game.
"But we have a lot of guys where we were learning how to do things and what to do. There is a learning curve in the NFL. I think we’ve seen improvement from some young players we’ve put some other guys in a few different positions and we’ve stuck with our scheme. I think the consistency there’s made a difference.”
“If you look back to the beginning of the season you had guys like John (Wendling) and myself playing defense and different guys having to play roles who were counted on to play special teams," he said. " I think we’re back to having our core group of guys and we’re just having fun."