Lions' Dan Campbell continues to be aggressive without regrets on fourth down
Chicago — Through the first four games of Dan Campbell's coaching tenure with the Detroit Lions, he's been one of the league's most aggressive coaches on fourth down.
But success on those plays has been a different story. Coming into the contest having converted just three of their 10 fourth-down tries, Detroit went 1-for-3 against the Bears, botching a couple of critical attempts deep in Chicago territory that resulted in turnovers on downs and zero points, playing a key role in the 24-14 loss.
In the immediate aftermath of the defeat, as he's done throughout the season, Campbell didn't second-guess either of the blown fourth-down decisions.
"Let me say this. I don’t regret any of them," he said.
The Lions first went for it on fourth down in the second quarter, in a situation many offensive coordinators will tell you is one of the most challenging areas of the field to execute.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line, not only are you caged by the back of the end zone, your play-calling options are halved because the distance is too long to attempt a run play.
At the time, the Lions were trailing by 14 and already had wasted an earlier trip in the red zone when quarterback Jared Goff and center Frank Ragnow had a miscommunication resulting in a premature snap that the Bears recovered.
Still, despite the less-than-ideal success rate on similar plays, Campbell didn't hesitate going for a touchdown over the chip-shot field goal.
"Yeah, I don’t think it was that close," Campbell said. "I wanted to go for it. ...I felt like we had two or three good plays that we had answers for what they were going to try to do to us and man. It didn’t work out.
"...I trusted us to score a touchdown," Campbell said. "And, there again, if I'm going to continue to trust, then we have to start working it much better and be better because we're not efficient enough right now.:
When Campbell arrived in Detroit, there was a perception, because he was groomed under Bill Parcells, he would exhibit some of the same conservative tendencies as the legendary coach. But time and time again, perhaps due to the influence of working five years under Sean Payton in New Orleans, Campbell has shown he's more than willing to be aggressive.
But going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 5 showed a different side of Campbell's old-school mentality, to favor his gut over analytics. He's repeatedly said, including after this loss, that he's going to lean on his gut when making key decisions.
Detroit didn't go for it on fourth down again until their final offensive possession. Just across midfield, Goff found wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown for a completion on fourth-and-1, but the catch was meaningless after the Bears obviously jumped before the snap, giving the Lions a free play.
Six plays later, now at the 8-yard line, trailing by 10 with a little more than four minutes remaining, the Lions faced another fourth-and-1. Following a 9-yard completion on the previous play, the Lions rushed to the line and quickly snapped it with Goff firing a short pass to St. Brown, running an out pattern.
The route was good, the receiver had separation, but the throw was wide, effectively ending Detroit's hope of a comeback. Again, Campbell didn't regret passing on a field goal, which would have made it a one-score game with the Lions still holding all three of their timeouts. But what the coach did wish he would have done differently is not run the play without a huddle.
"We got down there and he’s flowing with it, and so he’s going and I just think, that’s on me," Campbell said. "I just think we need to huddle and give them a play call that’s a little more fourth-down oriented, fourth-and-short, fourth-and-a-yard, and I put that on us."
After the failure to execute, Campbell said the team would be putting a greater emphasis on red-zone work the upcoming week of practice. He also reconfirmed his faith in his offensive players, including Goff, the offensive line and tight end T.J. Hockenson as his continued source of confidence in these fourth-down situations.
But Campbell also hinted at a potential breaking point with that confidence.
"We've got to do a better job, I have to do a better job," he said. "Because if we don’t, and we’re, I guess, not producing, then it does, it’s got to make you think maybe well, maybe we’re being too aggressive, we need to just take field goals and punt, play it safe."