The Detroit Lions being 0-7 through two months probably cannot be classified as a big surprise. Sure, most people had them with at least a win by now, but most people knew this would be a rough year, and going winless against a pretty strong schedule was certainly a possibility with this roster.
But that doesn’t mean everything that happened thus far has gone as expected. In fact, there are a ton of things that I would describe as surprising about the 2021 Detroit Lions. Undrafted rookie AJ Parker locking down the slot job in training camp and looking like he belongs in the regular season has to be near the top of most surprising things. Additionally, seeing the Lions’ closest games to a win coming against the Ravens, Rams and Vikings would not have been something I would have expected in the offseason.
However, I would not consider any of those things my biggest surprise.
What is the biggest surprise from the 2021 Detroit Lions?
My answer: Dan Campbell’s aggressiveness.
One of my biggest concerns with Campbell after the Lions hired him was his old-school mentality. The whole “let’s run the ball and physically dominate our opponent” mentality seemed 30 years old, and often with that mindset comes a very conservative approach when it comes to going for it, two points conversions and onside kicks. That concern of mine was only exacerbated when Campbell told the fellas at Pardon My Take that he would not go for two with the team down eight points late in the game—a common tactic that has gained more traction lately, especially among the analytic community.
But Campbell has dialed the aggressiveness up to 11 this year. Through seven weeks, no team has attempted more fourth down conversions than the Lions, and while some of that is out of necessity, others show that Campbell has truly an aggressive mentaily.
Of course, there was no better example of Campbell’s aggressive nature than Sunday’s contest against the Rams. He instinctively called an onside kick to play keep away from Matthew Stafford, dialed up two fake punts to help kick start a struggling offense, and he even made a gutsy fourth down call when a go-ahead field goal was on the table—an unpopular decision that I was personally in favor of.
I do wonder if this aggressiveness will continue when the Lions are better. It does feel like at least some of Campbell aggression is simply to offset a poor roster. Will Campbell tone it down if Detroit is better?
We won’t know that answer for a year or two (hopefully), but perhaps I should have taken Campbell at his word when he said this in his opening press conference.
“Until I got to (New Orleans Saints head coach) Sean (Payton) as a coach, I would tell you I was more conservative, more of a conservative-type thinker as it goes to this game. Much more traditional. You run the ball, you—I don’t want to say milk the clock—but ball control. Man, it’s third down, you’re trying to get the first. It’s fourth-and-2, we’re punting. All those things. You’re trying to be smart, and you’re allowing the opponent beat themselves.
“Look, that’s still a part of who I am, but I’ll tell you this, man, your eyes get opened. Sean, now, is on the other (end of the) spectrum. He’s very aggressive. If there’s anything I did learn from him, just from that side of it, you want to throw some defenses off? There’s a time to be aggressive, and use your special teams and use offense and try to get these defenses on their heels.”