On Sunday against the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions had five different possessions inside the Bears’ 10-yard line. They only scored seven points on those five possessions, which turned out to be a huge factor in their 24-14 loss to the Bears on Sunday.
On two of those possessions, the Lions fumbled the ball away—one on an errant snap that came unexpectedly, the other on a strip-sack. The other two scoreless possessions, however, ended on downs in situations in which the Lions could have taken a field goal to get points.
The first, the Lions were already down 14 points and found themselves in a fourth-and-goal from the five-yard line. Rather than take the three easy points, the Lions went for it and Goff’s pass to an open D’Andre Swift was deflected and fell incomplete.
The second came late in the game with the Lions down 10 points. Facing a fourth-and-less than a yard from the Bears’ 8-yard line, Detroit passed on a 26-yard field goal attempt to make it a one-score game with just over four minutes left and went for it. Goff hurried to the line and overthrew an open Amon-Ra St. Brown.
After the game, Campbell said he did not regret either of these decisions.
“My gut tells me to go for it,” Campbell said. “You get down there that tight and you get seven out of it, that’s a good thing. And if it doesn’t work out—which you don’t want—then you’ve got them pinned back there,”
That’s exactly how the first decision played out. The Lions didn’t convert, but they did get a three-and-out on defense, giving the ball right back to the offense with great field position (own 45-yard line). Detroit marched right back into field goal position before turning the ball over in the red zone.
As for the second decision late in the game, Campbell admitted he did make a mistake, but not in going for it. Campbell said he thought the team should have slowed things down, gone into a huddle, and called a more fourth-and-short appropriate play.
“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.”
But it wasn’t just Campbell’s gut that likely drove these tricky decisions, he was also backed up by the analytics crew. Ben Baldwin has created a fourth-down decision-making bot that uses win percentage—as a function of the score, time left in the game, down-and-distance—and in both scenarios, the Lions were right to go for it, per the numbers.
---> DET (0) @ CHI (14) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) October 3, 2021
DET has 4th & 5 at the CHI 5
Recommendation (MEDIUM): Go for it (+2.2 WP)
Actual play: (Shotgun) J.Goff pass incomplete short middle to D.Swift (A.Ogletree). pic.twitter.com/MNRufPNg2P
---> DET (14) @ CHI (24) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) October 3, 2021
DET has 4th & 1 at the CHI 8
Recommendation (STRONG): Go for it (+4.5 WP)
Actual play: (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Goff pass incomplete short left to https://t.co/doh0k71GtK. Brown [A.Blackson]. pic.twitter.com/f11Yb0FoYv
But even if you aren’t an analytics fan, Campbell’s decisions make sense. On a day in which the Lions defense was having fits with Justin Fields and the Bears offense, a bunch of field goals were not going to win this game. Additionally, late in the game, the Lions' offense was, once again, moving. They had the Bears on their heels and there was no guarantee they’d get that close to the end zone again—especially when the defense was playing as poorly as they were.
Campbell admitted that played into his decision this week, while last week when the defense was playing better, he may have considered field goals.
“I just think in a game like that where they get up a couple scores, kicking field goals may not be the game,” Campbell said. “Whereas last week it could’ve been a little more of that game. You take it as it comes.”
And in the case of the final decision, it was fourth-and-1—maybe even less than 1. Last year, offenses converted on fourth-and-1 over 75 percent of the time. That is a high-percentage play. While many—including myself—probably would’ve preferred a more appropriate play call, even the one they called should have been a success. St. Brown was open, but Goff threw off his back foot and missed him. He also had Quintez Cephus wide open over the middle.
In my opinion, the Lions didn’t lose on Sunday because they were overly aggressive in situations they didn’t have to be. They simply didn’t execute in key moments of the game.