The Detroit Lions didn’t have much go right this season on the field, but one of the things that did was special teams.
Not only did the Lions have an elite punter and a solid return group to go with a kicker that routinely banged through his share of record-breaking field goals, Detroit blocked kicks and was solid as a whole through most of the season. That work led them to be featured on a very interesting list.
According to veteran NFL writer Rick Gosselin, the Lions were the third best special teams group in the league this past season. Annually, Gosselin ranks special teams groups in the league and the Lions had a solid standing when it came to the list for Gosselin. They placed just behind New England and Seattle on the list.
Here’s what Gosselin wrote at Fan Nation and the Talk of Fame Network as to why:
“The Detroit Lions were a surprising third-place finisher. They were terrible — finishing 5-11 with the NFL’s 20th ranked offense and 32nd ranked defense – and head coach Matt Patricia was fired after Thanksgiving. But Detroit was ultra-competitive on the kicking downs, especially with NFC Pro Bowl punter Jack Fox.
The Lions blocked a league-high four kicks and finished first or with a share of first in four categories. There also were two second-place finishes, four more in the Top 5 and three more in the Top 10. But special-teams coach Brayden Coombs didn’t survive, either. The Lions fired him during Christmas week.”
While Coombs’ firing was a shock to the system, it didn’t stop Detroit’s special teams from having a solid finish to the year. Jamal Agnew returned a punt for Detroit’s only score against Tampa Bay, and Matt Prater became the strongest field goal kicker in NFL history from distance in the season finale.
As a whole, it was an impressive year for the Lions.
Why Brayden Coombs Was Fired
So why fire Coombs? According to those on the Lions’ beat, the team was unhappy about Coombs calling a fake punt against the Tennessee Titans without the knowledge of Darrell Bevell and the coaching staff in Detroit’s loss in the game. That fake punt ended up not working out, and Detroit lost the game. Eventually, Coombs’ firing was made by Bevell and approved by Rod Wood.
A Lions source explained the decision to fire Brayden Coombs was sealed by the team's fake punt call. That was, according to the source, made without authorization from anyone else — the latest in a line of decisions that led to making this move Monday.
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) December 21, 2020
More than the punt, though, Coombs was described to be more about himself than the team, making him a bad cultural fit for the franchise.
The way it was explained to me, the feeling within the organization is Coombs was more about himself than the team. https://t.co/Iia9tjypuT
— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 21, 2020
The whole situation is a paradox considering special teams is the one part of the game the 2020 Lions can count on for the most part. There is little doubt Coombs will catch on somewhere else eventually considering his age, and this honor for the Lions will be yet another feather in his cap.
Detroit’s Special Teams Solid During 2020
It’s ironic that quite possibly, the best thing about the 2020 Lions were the special teams. The Lions look to have developed one of the NFL’s next best punters in Jack Fox. Additionally, Matt Prater was still able to connect on long field goals most of the season, even if he was more erratic by his own high standards. Jamal Agnew had a nice season as a returner when healthy. Coombs was fired after making a huge coaching mistake late season, but it should not diminish the work he did in one single season with this group. The Lions are positioned well with Fox, and could consider bringing back Agnew and Prater to continue the fun into 2021 with a new staff. Special teams was hardly the problem, and they get graded as such. Perhaps the only ding was Prater’s lack of accuracy at times during the year.
Even such, the work the Lions did on special teams was a tribute to Coombs and good news as it relates to his candidacy elsewhere in the future. He’ll have to explain what went wrong late in the year with the Lions, but his entire body of work speaks for itself given how consistent the Lions were in 2020 on special teams.
This ranking only serves to prove it.