The Detroit Lions attempted six fourth-down conversions on Sunday against the Patriots, drawing some criticism for potentially being overaggressive in a game in which a conservative approach may have made more sense.
The New England Patriots were likely not going to have an aggressive game plan with third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe making his first NFL start. So a low-scoring affair was in the cards, and giving the Patriots any free points or good field position was a pretty big risk.
Lions coach Dan Campbell admitted that he went into Sunday expecting to be a little more conservative, but the game situations changed.
“Going into that game, I was not thinking about—I wanted to be much more conservative, and then, man, that’s where it went,” Campbell said.
But it took just seven plays into the game for Campbell to turn up the aggressiveness. On the team's opening drive, the Lions attempted to convert fourth-and-less-that-one from their own 45-yard line by running Jamaal Williams from the fullback position. Campbell reiterated on Monday that he felt that was not only the right decision but the right play call.
“The first fourth-and-1, that was less than half a yard, and we’re running behind (Penei) Sewell, and it was Logan (Stenberg), and we’re giving it to Jamaal,” Campbell said. “I didn’t second guess that one bit, I would take that every day of the week, and we got stuffed on it.”
Detroit's second fourth-down attempt was far more controversial. Facing a fourth-and-9 from the Patriots’ 32-yard line and down just 6-0, Campbell opted to pass up a 50-yard field goal attempt from newly-acquired kicker Michael Badgley and go for it. On the play, Jared Goff was sacked, and he fumbled the ball, which was returned for a touchdown.
Campbell said he simply did not feel comfortable kicking a field goal from that distance with Badgley, especially considering the wind conditions in the direction they were going.
“You don’t feel good about the field goal range, particularly going into that tunnel where the wind comes back in, so it just kind of moved that way,” Campbell said.
As for the rest of Detroit’s four fourth-down attempts, the Lions coach simply believed the game situation—with the team down three scores or more—necessitated the increased aggressiveness.
But beyond that, Campbell intimated that part of the reason for his aggression on fourth down this year—which is currently on pace for the most fourth down attempts in NFL history—is knowing that the strength on this team is their offense.
“Yeah, I think that’s a lot of it,” Campbell said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in what we do offensively.”
In other words, don’t expect Campbell to turn down the aggressiveness anytime soon.