Detroit Lions' Midseason Report is a three part series examining the strengths and weaknesses of the offense, defense and special teams from the first eight games while casting a look ahead to the second half of the season.
During the first half of the 2012 season, the Detroit Lions' special teams had already given up three notable touchdowns in the return game before the second half even began. Considering the Lions haven't seen such breakdowns plague them in 2013, improvement has been quick and obvious.
Aiding in this is the electric leg of rookie Sam Martin, who has helped the Lions boom the ball deep and cover kickoffs much better. Martin has also been one of the most impressive young punters in the game, helping the Lions with field position. Veteran kicker David Akers has been mostly unflappable, and Detroit's special teams have helped aid in several wins. The final midseason report looks closer at some unsung heroes.
First Half Special Teams MVP: Sam Martin. There's no question Martin has been worthy of the fifth round pick which was used to select him. He's averaging a solid 48.5 yards per punt with an astonishing long of 72 yards with 10 punts inside the 20 yard line, and has also figured in huge on kickoffs with a powerful leg keeping teams deep. Despite the bad punt that cost him against Cincinnati, Martin has been a breath of fresh air after years of bad punting in Detroit.
First Half Player/Issue Needing Improvement: Michael Spurlock and field goal protection. Spurlock, despite his experience in the role, hasn't been fantastic at kick returner, looking indecisive at times when bringing the ball out. He's gotten loose a few times, but overall, Spurlock has struggled. Field goal protection, meanwhile, has taken over kickoff returns as the biggest issue of the year. The Lions have had two field goals blocked, which may have directly led to two losses. They'll need to clean that up for the second half. A few more games are likely to be decided by important kicks.
Player To Watch In Second Half: Jeremy Ross. The Lions used Ross last week in the return role, which Jim Schwartz emphasized was not an indication of a benching. Ross didn't get a chance to show much, but might he be given a chance to supplant Spurlock? Schwartz remained tight lipped about that Monday. Still, considering the average to below average performance of Spurlock, it will be interesting to see if Ross is able to give the Lions anything down the stretch and take the job with play if it's offered.
Toughest Game Of Second Half: Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings' Cordarrelle Patterson has taken two kickoffs back for touchdowns this year. Patterson might be the most dynamic returner in football this season. In a close road game, one special teams mistake can change everything, and the Lions famously made two against Minnesota last season. Controlling Patterson in the season's final game may be a big challenge. Blair Walsh has also become an excellent kicker, meaning the Lions will have their hands full on plenty of fronts the last game of the year.
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