The Detroit Lions are the NFL’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this year. While they rank first in the league in scoring and field one of the league’s best offenses, their defense is on the other end of the spectrum and ranked last in points and yards.
Of course, the game consists of more than just those two phases — and Bill Belichick is making sure you don’t forget. The New England Patriots’ head coach, after all, made sure to also mention Detroit’s kicking game operation during his press conference on Wednesday.
Needless to say, he is a fan.
“Special teams is a real strength of the team,” Belichick said about the Patriots’ Week 5 opponent. “Obviously [Jack] Fox, he’s one of the best punters in the league. He’s outstanding. [Chris] Board, that’s the best special teams player we’ll play against all year. He’s a great player. Kalif Raymond — Crusader, love a Crusader. He is an aggressive and solid combo return guy.
“They have good speed, good size, good kicking game, good specialists. Obviously, they are working through the kicker situation, but they have some really outstanding players in those units.”
Of the three players mentioned by Belichick, punter Jack Fox stands out. Not only is he averaging a net of 44.3 yards per kick — sixth best in the NFL and almost 10 yards more than the Patriots’ own Jake Bailey (34.5; 32nd) — he also completed a 6-yard pass against the Seattle Seahawks last week.
It was therefore unsurprising to hear Belichick refer to the 26-year-old as a “weapon” on Wednesday, and to praise his all-around abilities as one of football’s best punters.
“Fox, he is a weapon,” Belichick said. “He can kickoff, punt, punt for accuracy, punt for distance. He threw it like a quarterback back there. That was a long throw. It was like 15-yards deep. There was good coverage and he put it right there.”
Belichick then went on to once again praise the unit as a whole.
“Blocked a field goal. Close on another one. They’re a good rush team. This will be a big challenge for us in the kicking game.”
The unit coordinated by Dave Fipp does face some questions heading into this week’s game, however. Linebacker Chris Board, who Belichick called the best special teamer New England will face all year, is dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of Wednesday’s practice.
Additionally, kicker Austin Seibert missed last week’s game with a right groin issue. He was limited in practice on Wednesday; his replacement, Dominik Eberle, was released after missing a pair of extra points in Week 4.
Still, Detroit has proven its abilities in the game’s third phase all year. And Bill Belichick is making sure you don’t forget about it.