TWENTYMAN: Special teams gauntlet continues for Lions

Posted Oct 25, 2013

The Lions face one of the best return men in the NFL in Dwayne Harris, but they should be used to that by now

The Lions have faced a gauntlet of the leagues best return men to begin the season. Names like Devin Hester, Patrick Peterson, Randall Cobb, Travis Benjamin, Cordarrelle Patterson and others have already been on the scouting report.

It doesn’t get any easier this week with Dwayne Harris of the Cowboys.

Harris is No. 1 in the NFL on kickoff returns (35.1 average) and No. 2 on punt returns (16.3). He’s already returned a punt for a touchdown this year.

"Probably the best right now, at least statistically the best dual returner in the NFL," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Harris.

Dwayne HarrisWR Dwayne Harris (Photo: AP Images)

"He’s made big plays. He’s scored. It’s not just his return ability. The guy is probably their best cover guy also. Gunner, kick off cover it reminds me a lot of Josh Cribs a few years ago as a dual purpose, returner, but then also as a cover guy. That’s rare to find. He’s playing well for them."

That's quite a compliment.

The special teams units have been a real weapon for the Cowboys. They have four punt returns of 20-plus yards this year and six kickoff returns of 20-plus yards.

It’s a matchup, Sunday, of dueling strengths, because the Lions’ coverage units have been among the best in the NFL this year.

"It helps that our punter is hanging it the way he is right now, but we really enjoy being out there," safety Don Carey said. "(Special team coordinator John) Bonamego breaks it down in a way that’s relative to us in other positions and we’re just out there having fun."

The Lions have allowed the fourth-fewest punt return yards in the NFL (56) this season and punt returners are averaging just 3.5 yards per return.

Opponents are averaging 23.6 yards per kickoff return, but the Lions have given up only two kickoff returns of 30-plus yards and not one of more than 33 yards.

"It’s definitely a combination of hang time with punts and location of punts but also our coverage team doing a great job," punter Sam Martin said.

"Against Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), I think my punts were pretty effective that game. Then we played (Devin) Hester and I served him up right down the middle on one play and our coverage team took him down. It’s definitely a combination of the both of us."

The Lions will have their hands full with Harris, though.

"Get him down and limit the big play," linebacker Ashlee Palmer said. "As a returner, you’re looking for the big play every time you touch the ball. You just have to put hats on him. Returners don’t like being hit."