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Should Detroit Lions move on from Agnew as returner?

Agnew benched during game vs. Chargers

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 08: Cornerback Jamal Agnew #39 of the Detroit Lions returns a kick during the second half of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Lions and Cardinals tied 27-27. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Detroit Lions are struggling on special teams—specifically in the return game.

Jamal Agnew, who was an All-Pro returner as a rookie in 2017, was benched Sunday. It was the second straight week he didn't play well, leaving fans to ask if he should be replaced or even cut.  

Through the first two games of 2019, Agnew has not looked like himself. He doesn't seem confident when he gets the ball and you can see it in the way he's running. Agnew is slow to react and running sheepishly, moving laterally instead of downhill. 

On four punt returns this year, Agnew is averaging just .6 yards, with his longest return being only five yards. The Lions' punt return average is tied with the Miami Dolphins for third worst in the league. 

Ball security

Amplifying Agnew's struggles are problems holding onto the ball. In Week 1, he muffed a punt near the Lions' own endzone, which allowed Arizona to get the ball back and kick a field goal right before halftime. 

Against the Chargers, Agnew fumbled after a nine-yard punt return. Luckily for the Lions, there were offsetting penalties and the Chargers had to punt again. They say ball security is job security. If you can't hold on to the ball, you can't play. 

Benching and possible replacements

After that fumble against the Chargers, head coach Matt Patricia decided to replace Agnew with Danny Amendola. On Amendola's two punt returns there was a noticeable difference, as Amendola wasted no time getting up the field. 

Patricia also replaced Agnew on kickoffs, putting in rookie Ty Johnson.  

Letting Amendola handle return duties could pay off on special teams and get Amendola going a little bit on offense. The same could be said for Ty Johnson, who was used more on offense Sunday and might be moving into a bigger role. 

As a punt returner, Amendola averages just over nine yards per punt return in his career. In college, Johnson averaged 24.9 yards per kick return in his four years at Maryland. 

After Sunday's game, head coach Matt Patricia said replacing Agnew was an in the moment decision and for the time being isn't permanent. If Agnew is still the Lions' returner this week, expect a short leash. If he continues to struggle and makes more mistakes, he'll be replaced.  

Special teams' hiccups 

During the offseason, the Lions rehired former special teams coach and recent Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego to run the Lions' special teams.  

So far, things have not been running smoothly. The Lions' special teams have racked up penalties, had a punt blocked and missed an extra point and field goal. 

What happens with Agnew and the performance of the special teams units will be something to watch over the next two games against playoff teams from last season: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs.  

Following those two games is the Lions' bye week. That's when some changes could be made if things still aren't up to expectations.