MIKE O'HARA

Lions finish second in Rick Gosselin's special teams rankings

Posted Feb 12, 2017

The proof is in the ratings that the 2016 season was special for the Detroit Lions’ special teams.

The proof is in the ratings that the 2016 season was special for the Detroit Lions’ special teams.

No individual unit showed more progress over the 2015 season than the special teams in a season when the Lions made a jump in the standings to make the NFC playoffs as a wild card with a 9-7 record after finishing 7-9 in 2015.

The Lions leaped from 14th place among the NFL’s 32 teams in 2015 to second overall in 2016 in the comprehensive special teams rankings compiled annually by nationally respected Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin.

Gosselin’s rankings are based on how teams perform in 22 categories related to kicking, punting, protection and coverage.

Points are assigned on an inverse basis – with one point for the highest rating in an individual category to 32 for the worst. Rankings are for the regular season and do not include the postseason.

The Philadelphia Eagles ranked No. 1 with 226.5 points. The Lions were next with 253.5. Rounding out the top five: 3. Chiefs, 264.5; 4. Rams, 270.5; 5. Ravens, 279.5.

The Lions had 352 points in 2015. The Ravens were No. 1 with 231.

The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, annually a top 10 team, were No. 6 at 287.5. The Falcons, who were defeated by the Patriots in overtime in Super Bowl LI, were 14th at 350.5.

The Lions were the only NFC North team in the top 10. The other NFC North rankings: Vikings 15, 351; Bears 27, 444.5; Packers 29, 456.6.

Bob Quinn stressed upgrading the special teams unit in his first season as general manager. Free agents such as defensive back Johnson Bademosi were signed partly because of their history of strong play on special teams. Safety Miles Killebrew, a fourth-round draft pick, also had a skill set that could make him a solid contributor on special teams, which proved to be the case.

Quinn also inherited three proficient specialists in punter Sam Martin, kicker Matt Prater and long snapper Don Muhlbach.

Joe Marciano has been the Lions’ special teams coordinator the last two seasons with Devin Fitzsimmons his primary assistant.

In addition to the coverage units, strong individual performances by Martin and Prater and returner Andre Roberts – another free-agent signing -- were key factors in the Lions’ high finish.

The Lions finished in the top 10 in 12 of the 22 categories. The highest individual finishes were two seconds, both by Martin – a 48.5-yard gross punting average, and 44.2 net.

Other categories where the Lions ranked in the top 10:

Punt returns: Third, 12.2-yard average and two TDs, both by Roberts.

Punt coverage: Fifth, 6.0-yards allowed per punt.

Opponents’ gross punting average: Eighth, 44.0 yards.

Opponents’ net punting average: Fourth, 38.3.

Total field goals: Seventh, 31 by Prater. (Note: extra credit is not given to game-winning or game-tying kicks. If they had been, Prater’s ranking would have been higher.)

Points scored: Tied with the Ravens for fourth with 14, on two punt return TDs and a safety. Extra points and field goals are not included in this category, but safeties are.

Points allowed: Tied for first, with none.

Blocked kicks: Tied for eighth with two, a punt and a field goal.

Blocked kicks allowed: Tied for sixth with one, a field goal.

Total penalties: 10th, with 15.