Analytics has been the buzz word in the NFL over the past month, thanks, largely, to Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley. Two weeks ago, the Chargers passed on a field goal attempt and went for it on fourth down. Though each time the Los Angeles offense failed to convert, many in the analytical community have praised Staley for sticking with what they believe to be the mathematically correct decision based on probabilities and advanced statistics.
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell, too, has been overly aggressive for most of the year, drawing both criticism and praise from fans alike.
But when it comes to the analytics community, there isn’t a coach better at making fourth-down decisions this year than Campbell.
Ben Baldwin of The Athletic created a “4th down decision bot,” which automatically crunches the numbers for every fourth down decision in the NFL and tweets out the recommended action. The bot uses factors like score, time remaining in the game, projected success rates and field position to spit out a decision. For example, this is what the bot thought of Detroit’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 on the Falcons 40-yard line in the second quarter:
---> DET (3) @ ATL (7) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) December 26, 2021
DET has 4th & 1 at the ATL 40
Recommendation (STRONG): Go for it (+4.2 WP)
Actual play: (Run formation) PENALTY on DET-J.Jackson, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at ATL 40 - No Play. pic.twitter.com/mE9RHlhIND
On Wednesday, Baldwin took all the results from his bot and charted which teams were making the most “correct” decisions when it comes to fourth down. Campbell is above everyone else.
After a couple of uncharacteristic 4th down mistakes for the Chargers on Sunday, the Lions move to No. 1 in going for it when they should pic.twitter.com/LfLamUqVI7— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) December 29, 2021
Earlier this week, Campbell was asked about his overall aggressiveness on fourth down.
“I want to send a message that we’re playing to win and we’re not playing to lose and there is a time to be conservative and there is a time to be aggressive,” Campbell said. “And so it’s just, I think, a little more in my nature to roll the dice, if you will. But I still feel like it’s calculated risk.”
Of course, Campbell hasn’t been perfect in the analytical model. Just last week, he made a controversial decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-5 with less than three minutes remaining and still down seven points. Baldwin’s model was not a fan.
---> DET (13) @ ATL (20) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) December 26, 2021
DET has 4th & 5 at the ATL 8
Recommendation (MEDIUM): Go for it (+2 WP)
Actual play: R.Patterson 26 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-S.Daly, https://t.co/TxBVmsEn5D. pic.twitter.com/h9YRfKOgWO
But there isn’t a single coach in the NFL that will adhere blindly to an analytical model. Campbell just happens to be the closest one this year.
- Amani Oruwariye chatted with PFF last week to talk about taking the next step in his game, and why he’s so excited to be a part of this current Lions regime. Here’s a notable quote about defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn:
“Playing for coaches like that who played the position, who get it, who know so much about football, your level of intelligence and play just increases tremendously. I’m excited for the future, see how far we can take this thing.”
- The Lions are shorthanded at tight end right now, but don’t expect Dan Campbell to suit up again any time soon:
Dan Campbell, on the possibility of him suiting up due to the depth crunch at tight end: "That's a negative. That would not be good. There would be a kneecap out there on the ground that just fell off. And an ankle."— kyle meinke (@kmeinke) December 29, 2021
- Kyle Meinke of MLive shared his thoughts on the complicated future of Jared Goff in his latest weekly mailbag. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press did the same in his mailbag ($).
- Campbell shared his thoughts on the passing of football legend John Madden:
Coach Campbell remembers John Madden. pic.twitter.com/u7Knt9gFkp— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 29, 2021
- And here’s a few current and former Lions players weighing in on Madden’s passing:
I am still in shock about #johnmadden's passing. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. I grew up a @Raiders fan so when he agreed to write the forward to my book it was literally a dream come true. I will always treasure these words Coach! pic.twitter.com/2gcIDU9Xre— Barry Sanders (@BarrySanders) December 29, 2021
RIP John Madden— Nicholas Williams (@NickWilliams_98) December 29, 2021
- Former Lions running back Kerryon Johnson is back in the NFL. He re-signed to the Eagles practice squad this week.
- Not only has Amon-Ra St. Brown been an absolute monster over the past month, but he’s also facing a pretty darn good matchup this week against the Seattle Seahawks:
Amon-Ra St. Brown over the last four weeks:— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 29, 2021
Week 13: 10 receptions-86 yards-1 TD (12 targets), PPR WR6
Week 14: 8-73-0 (12), WR26
Week 15: 9-90-1 (11), WR6
Week 16: 9-91-1 (11), WR6
Only Washington/Saints have allowed more receptions to slot receivers than the Seahawks. Giggity