The secret to a successful onside kick is simple.
“Live right,” Detroit Lions kicker Austin Seibert said.
The Lions have recovered two onside kicks in seven games this season, more than all other NFL teams combined. And Seibert’s successful onside attempt in Sunday’s 28-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was the first of three trick-play conversions on special teams that kept the Lions in the game against one of the NFL’s best teams.
Lions coach Dan Campbell said he felt like he needed to be aggressive on special teams and conservative on offense as a way to maximize possessions and keep the Rams’ high-powered offense off the field, and this week’s film review looks at how the Lions were able to succeed in the third phase of the game.
Along with Seibert’s onside kick, Jack Fox completed a 17-yard pass to Bobby Price on a fake punt, and C.J. Moore ran for 28 yards on a second fake punt.
“We’re trying to win football games here and I think that’s pretty clear throughout the whole building,” Seibert said. “And I think that comes down to special teams as well. So if we can execute what we’re supposed to do and help the offense, help the defense any way we can, I think we’re going to do that. So I thought (Sunday’s game) was awesome. I don’t know when the last time a team’s run three fakes in a game, but that was my first time and I thought it was pretty cool cause it definitely sparks momentum and that kind of builds what the offense and the defense and gives us momentum to finish out games.”
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The Lions did not finish Sunday’s game with a win, but they turned their conversions into 8 minutes, 22 seconds of extra possession time on a day they had a hard time stopping L.A.’s offense. The Rams scored on five of their seven possessions, excluding two that ended in kneel-downs.
The onside kick
Seibert said he was told he was going to onside kick “about 30 seconds before that kick happened,” though the Lions saw enough in their film study of the Rams’ special teams last week to know it was a possibility.
“We had some speculation we were going to do it, but you never really know,” Seibert said. “We worked it and we knew it was in the game plan, we just didn’t know when it was going to be called upon and it’s really the perfect time to call it. So everything worked out and it was a good call.”
Seibert approached the kick as normal, with five coverage players flanked on each side, and slowed up just enough to hit a dribbler toward the left front line of the Rams’ return team.
The Rams aligned their front line slightly deeper than the 45-yard line, or the 10-yard mark where an onside kick must travel beyond before it can be first touched by the kicking team. The Lions, for comparison, aligned at the 50-yard line Sunday, 5 yards deeper than the start of the recovery mark.
Nick Scott, on the far left of the Rams’ return formation at the 48-yard line, took a hop step downfield just as Seibert kicked the ball, and Travin Howard, in the middle of the Rams’ five-man front, turned his body to the right to begin running downfield.
When Seibert’s slow-roller took a high bounce right before it hit diving Rams linebacker Troy Reeder’s right hand, neither Scott nor Howard was in position to make the recovery while all five Lions to the right of Seibert — Moore, Jalen Elliott, Tracy Walker, Josh Woods and Brock Wright — hit the ground looking for the ball.
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“I have to execute the kick, but most importantly it’s the guys who are getting that ball,” Seibert said. “If they’re not going 100% after it, then we’re not getting that kick recovered. And these guys are fearlessly going to get that ball and I have a lot of respect for the dudes doing that because you really got to man up and do that.”
First fake punt
Walker recovered Seibert’s onside kick, giving the Lions first-and-10 at their own 47, up 7-0 after scoring on the game’s opening possession. But the Lions nearly squandered their good field position, when Penei Sewell was called for holding on the first play of the drive, an offsetting penalty that nullified an 8-yard D’Andre Swift run.
The Lions gained 3 yards on their next three plays and Campbell sent his punt team out on fourth-and-7.
Lions punter Jack Fox, a high school quarterback, took the snap near his own 36-yard line and fired a perfect spiral to Price, the gunner who got an inside release on Scott, the Rams’ jammer on the far sideline.
“Jack threw a great pass out there to Bobby and the protection held up,” Moore said after the game. “It was a great play.”
Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said last week his units work “a handful of” trick plays every week and that “it’s got to be the right opportunity, situation” for them to be called.
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As aggressive as Campbell has been with his decision making this season, Rams coach Sean McVay insisted his team was ready for the Lions’ trick plays Sunday, but simply got out-executed.
“They ended up creating a bunch of momentum and you end up having two fake punts and a surprise onside kick,” McVay said. “Both of those things are things that we did anticipate and expect. But we didn’t execute and they did. That wasn’t good and there’s a lot of things that we can learn from.”
Second fake punt
Seibert made a 37-yard field goal six plays after Fox’s completion to give the Lions a 10-0 lead. Two quarters later, with the Lions down one point, Campbell dialed up a second fake to try and turn momentum the Lions’ way again.
On fourth-and-8 from the Lions’ 35-yard line, Moore, a wing-T quarterback in high school, took a direct snap from Scott Daly and took off running around the left end.
Though Daly turned the ball slightly to aim at Moore before the snap, no Rams players noticed.
The Lions slid their protection to the left on the play, with Woods, Wright and Elliott sealing the edge and providing a convoy to the first-down marker. And Price took an outside release at gunner, running his jammer, Terrell Burgess, out of bounds.
Moore said his first thought when he heard the fake punt call was “make sure I catch the ball.” Once he did, with just two Rams on the right side of their punt rush formation, there was no beating him to the edge.
“We knew if we got the look then we just had to execute and we got the look and shoot, thanks to the guys up front we sealed the edge and I was able to get around,” Moore said.
The Lions failed to convert their second fake punt into points, turning the ball back over on downs. But by pulling out all stops on special teams, they kept themselves in a game few gave them a chance to win.
“Dave Fipp did a hell of a job,” Campbell said. “We talked about it all week and those guys executed the plan perfectly all week. A lot of faith in those guys on special teams, C.J., Fox throwing it, Bobby, Seibert on the kick. Tracy got the ball. Woods and Jalen Elliott. They executed all week. It just gives you a ton of faith. We had a feel the look could be there and so we wanted to give it a go.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.