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Dan Campbell re-evaluating fourth-down decisions: ‘We’re not good enough right now’

Dan Campbell is doing a little self-reflection after Detroit’s short-yardage struggles.

Baltimore Ravens vs Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have a fourth down problem. The team has gone for it on fourth down more than any other team, with 10 attempts through four games, but their conversion rate is one of the lowest in the league at just 30 percent. Those struggles were on full display during Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears when head coach Dan Campbell made two bold decisions to go for it on fourth down deep in Bears territory over kicking chip-shot field goals. The Lions failed to convert both times, speaking to larger issues in the red zone on Sunday.

And while Campbell said he did not regret either of those decisions after the game, he did admit on Monday afternoon that he’s considering changing his strategy when it comes to these aggressive decisions.

“That’s how I wanted to start the season, but we’re not good enough right now,” Campbell said. “We’re not functioning well enough right now, or efficiently well enough, to continue down that road until we really try to work on it and then let’s see if we can improve and get it to where we want. So, we’re going to have to make a serious focal point on this area to continue that way. Those are the facts.”

Even those who have been in favor of Detroit’s aggressive approach to fourth downs have been confounded by their insistence on passing the ball in short-yardage situations. The Lions have faced 22 third or fourth downs with three yards or fewer to go. In those 22 plays, the Lions have:

  • Called 17 pass plays — and converted just six times (35.3% conversions)
  • Called five rushing plays — and converted four times (80% conversions)

(You can see the results of all 22 short-yardage situations here)

And of those five rushing plays, the Lions called on Jamaal Williams for four of them. On Monday, Campbell admitted that Williams has been running really well this season, and that the team will also be re-evaluating using him more in short-yardage situation.

“All of that stuff we’re going to reevaluate, all of our third-and-short type situations and figure out exactly what we need to do, what’s going to be best for us moving forward,” Campbell said. “I don’t disagree with you in the fact – look, Jamaal ran his rear off yesterday. He was on point. And so, look, it’s certainly something we’re going to look at.”

While some of this may seem like nitpicking, Detroit’s short-yardage performance on Sunday could have been the difference between a win and a loss against the Bears. The Lions traveled inside Chicago’s 10-yard line five times and came away with just seven total points on those drives. In Green Bay, the Lions failed to convert a fourth-and-1 play that could have led to them retaking the lead in the third quarter. In Week 1, the Lions wasted an opportunity to take a lead over the 49ers on the first drive of the game after coming up short on a fourth-and-2 on San Francisco’s side of the field.

These are game-changing moments that undeniably altered the course of the rest of the game.

If the Lions can figure out what is ailing the offense in these short-yardage situations—and, more importantly, fix the issues—Detroit could have a real chance at not just being competitive week-to-week, but notching their first win of the season.