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Tuesday open thread: Are you concerned about Dan Campbell as a game manager?

Has Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell lost your trust as a game manager?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

There are plenty of reasons why the Detroit Lions lost to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The offense seemed to be missing its big-play threat with both D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown hobbled by injuries. The defense, who was clearly focused on stopping Justin Jefferson, couldn’t stop any other Vikings players on the field. Even special teams had a big hand in Detroit’s loss, with Austin Seibert missing two makeable kicks that could have very well made the difference in outcome on Sunday. It was truly a team effort to lose this game.

But Mondays tend to be a scapegoating day after a loss, and coach Dan Campbell was this week’s scapegoat du jour—and for good reason. Campbell made some questionable decisions down the stretch of that game, whether it be failing to run the play clock all the way down to milk as much time on offense with a lead or his befuddling decision to attempt a 54-yard field goal late in the game, when both punting and going for it were clear better options.

Is it fair to boil the entire game down to Campbell’s decisions? Of course not. Is it true, though, that these decisions undeniably hurt the Lions’ chances to win the game. It sure is.

Which leads to today’s Question of the Day?

Are you concerned about Dan Campbell’s ability to manage a game?

My answer: No, not yet.

Last year, the Lions didn’t win a lot of close games, and one may think that means Campbell has done a poor job managing late-game scenarios. And, sure, there are a couple that jump to mind right away: in the Ravens game, the defense got too conservative, and Campbell also used a timeout on Baltimore’s final drive. The clock may not have been running like it was when Campbell used a timeout on Sunday vs. the Vikings, but much like that timeout, the Ravens came out of it with what turned out to be a game-winning play.

There was also the Chicago Bears Thanksgiving game, or the infamous “double timeout” game. Chicago was facing a third-and-9 with just under two minutes left. A stop would have meant Chicago would kick (and likely make) the go-ahead kick, but would leave the Lions plenty of time to formulate a game-winning drive. Instead, the Lions—panicked because of defensive miscommunications—called back-to-back timeouts, which is not allowed and was penalized for 5 yards. It gave the Bears a much easier third-and-4 to convert, and they did and were able to run the rest of the clock out before kicking the game-winning field goal.

Those are two examples you can certainly point to as mistakes made by Campbell and his coaching staff that hurt the team’s chances to win the game. That is undeniable. And if you think that’s enough of a trend to be concerned, I get it.

... but that’s kind of it.

Look around the league, and you’ll find countless examples of coaching mismanaging the clock, misusing timeouts, failing to go for fourth down enough, or calling too conservative of plays late in the game. That doesn’t excuse Campbell for his mistakes, but it points to two things: One, these decisions look much easier from our couches than then do in the thick of it. Two, if you don’t like how Campbell is managing a game, the next guy has a very good chance of being worse.

And let’s not overlook a lot of the good decisions Campbell has made as a game manager. His aggressiveness on fourth down is unique. Last year, the Lions attempted more fourth downs than any other team, and that hasn’t changed this year, as Detroit is already second in fourth down attempts. In Football Outsiders’ “Aggressiveness Index”—which measures how aggressive a coach is on fourth down compared to the league average in those exact same scenarios—Campbell ranked fourth last year. Aggressiveness doesn’t always mean you’re making the “right” decision, but for far too long this league was plagued by coaches playing scared, and Campbell has decisively bucked that trend in Detroit.

Also, in most cases, Campbell’s aggressiveness was backed by analytics.

Also, we can’t forget how Campbell turned up the overall aggressiveness last year when he knew the team was outmatched. He was largely the reason why the Lions were in a position to beat the Los Angeles Rams last year, because he knew they stood little chance to match up in a normal game. He had to ramp up the aggressiveness to 11 with a couple of fake punts and a surprise onside kick. I want a coach who will go down swinging, no matter how big of an underdog.

No coach is going to be perfect on game days, no matter how much your or I want them to be. Thus far, Campbell’s “mistakes” have been too few and far between for me to jump ship. That said, Sunday’s choice to kick a field goal was just about as egregious of an error as you can make as a game manager, and that’s why Campbell owned up to it right away.

So as long as he learned from it, I’m willing to forgive and forget this one.

Your turn.


Are you concerned about Dan Campbell’s ability to be a game manager?

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