Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell entered 2021 knowing he was going to need to be aggressive on offense in order to stay competitive during the first year of the franchise's rebuild. We saw flashes of Campbell’s aggressiveness all throughout the season, and as the season wore on, the number of times the Lions went for it fourth down began to build.
“I would like to believe the aggressive nature will stay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will show up on fourth downs all of the time,” Campbell said last month. “That can show up on first and second down on some different things that we do. But I think – there again, if the timing is right and it’s one of those things that you really feel strongly about with your players and the play, the schemes, yeah, you do it.”
By Week 18, the Lions entered their game with the Green Bay Packers just one fourth-down attempt away from tying the NFL record for number of attempts.
It didn't take long before Campbell tied the record, calling for a fake punt on the opening drive. Jack Fox, who completed both his passes for fourth-down conversions this season, dropped a dime over a defender that went right through the waiting arms of running back Godwin Igwebuike, for an incompletion.
Campbell would not be deterred.
On their second possession, the Lions scored on a 75-yard trick-play pass from wide receiver Tom Kennedy to wide receiver Kalif Raymond. Their third possession was more traditional, driving down the field 55-yards, to get to the 2-yard line. And once again, the Campbell was faced with a fourth-down decision. Kick the field goal or go for it?
Campbell, of course, went for it:
That conversion not only gave the Lions the record for most fourth-down attempts in a single season in NFL history, but it also gave them the record for most fourth-down conversions.
For good measure, the Lions went for it again on the ensuing drive, and once again, they converted—this time a fourth-and-1 pass from Jared Goff to Josh Reynolds.
The beauty of Campbell’s approach on fourth-down is not that it’s recklessly aggressive, but measured aggression. The results are a welcomed change to the offensive approach we have seen from Detroit coaches in the past, and it’s one that we hope to see continue in the future.