Detroit Lions believe it takes more than just special teams to improve field positioning

Detroit Free Press

There are a few ways to look at Detroit’s offensive performance in its 38-35 Week 1 loss to the Eagles.

Option A: The Lions scored five touchdown drives of more than 70 yards, the only team in the NFL to do so. It’s early proof of concept that the offense does have the balance and big-play ability it’s boasted since the offseason.

Option B: The Lions needed to drive more than 70 yards each time to score the ball. Only once out of 10 drives did they start on the plus side of the 30, which came after the Eagles’ first drive when Detroit forced a turnover on downs and took over on its own 41.

No matter which way you slice it, the Lions staff knows if they are going to be one of the top scoring teams in the league long term — which they believe they can be — they’re going to have to start in more advantageous positions.

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“If you just look at a field chart, the further back you start, the less chance you have to score, period,” said special teams coordinator Dave Fipp “It just goes up and it’s really fairly linear, every yard counts the closer you get, your odds of scoring both touchdowns and field goals, ultimately points (goes up).”

The concept Fipp is describing, “expected points,” is a relatively new concept in football circles. It’s a formula that estimates how many points an offense is expected to score on a drive depending on the context of the game (time remaining, score differential, etc.)

For example, according to the numbers, a drive that starts at your own 20-yard line has an EPA of 0.7 points. The same drive starting at your own 40 has an EPA of 2.06. A drive beginning at the opponent’s 40-yard line has an EPA of 3.4.

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“Every game has its own kind of situations to it,” Dan Campbell said. “(But) it always is going to help if you can get a short field offensively, absolutely.”

Of course, there is nuance within the greater picture of field position, and how it’s obtained. The Lions didn’t have a single kick return — all seven Eagles kickoffs resulted in touchbacks — which isn’t ideal, but something Fipp can live with.

“The starting field position after a kickoff or kickoff return is somewhere around the 25-yard line whether it’s a kickoff return or touchback,” he said. “So there’s not a huge fluctuation there … a punt return, totally different.”

As Fipp explained, there’s a difference between covering a punt that comes on a fourth-and-15 as opposed to a punt on fourth-and-1 when the unit is protecting against a potential fake.

Then again, it’s not up to the special teams unit what the down-and-distance is when they enter the field.

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“A lot of people relate field position to special teams, but I would say field position is all three phases,” Fipp said. “If you’re trying to start on the other side of the 50, now you’re incorporating offense and defense.

“Sometimes I think people generalize and say special teams is field position, I don’t agree with that at all, all three phases contribute.”

Then again, the biggest factor in changing field position is something the Lions defense didn’t do at all in the first game — create a turnover.

“Listen, we play defense,” said Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. “So to us, it doesn’t matter where they’re at. Our job is to go stop them, and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”

The defense did force three punts, and Kalif Raymond had returns of 12, 3 and what would’ve been 11 yards. But that final return was negated by a holding call that pushed the start of the drive to their own 28-yard line, a net minus-21-yard swing.

“That crushes us,” Campbell said.

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However, on that instance, Lions were able to overcome it and drive 72 yards for the final score of the game. All-in-all, point production worked out okay in the opener at least in terms of getting touchdowns on the board.

But the numbers don’t lie, the Lions have to give their offense a shorter field.

“(We) just didn’t complement each other very well,” Campbell said of Week 1’s fatal flaw. “Which we have to do.”

Contact Tony Garcia at Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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