While it was Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell who garnered all the headlines for his bold fourth-and-2 call to help them beat the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson had an even bolder call that went overlooked nationally.
With the Lions holding a 10-3 lead near the end of the first quarter, the Lions were facing a fourth-and-5 at the Chargers’ 28-yard line. It’s not all that surprising that the Lions opted to go for it over attempting a 46-yard field goal, but the play call was nothing short of shocking. The Lions ran a draw play, and even more outrageously, David Montgomery picked up the first down conversion.
4th-and-6 trap. Nice job by Jonah Jackson to log this DT when the defender steps down. Love Montgomery's finish to this run, and the effort from LaPorta and Ragnow to get him across for the first down. pic.twitter.com/EfELNSr22T— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) November 13, 2023
To give you a sense of just how rare this play call was, I went back and looked at the history of fourth-and-5 or more calls in NFL history with the help of the Stathead database. I looked specifically at first-half plays, attempting to weed out give-up plays in a lopsided score. Eliminating scrambles, QB kneels, and fake punts or field goals, Montgomery’s run was the first time a running back has intentionally run the ball on a fourth-and-5+ since at least 2006.
Naturally, I had to ask Johnson about the call during his Thursday press conference.
“Did you like the call? You liked the results, right?” Johnson said. “Yeah, yeah, that’s trusting our players to get the job done. David Montgomery, I think he’s a little bit short of the sticks, but he kept churning his legs and you saw the rest of the unit join the party, as well.”
Indeed, Montgomery has been a trustworthy player in those kind of situations. The bruising back currently ranks 10th in the NFL in yards after contact per rushing attempt (2.0) and his 12 broken tackles are third among running backs, despite missing three games.
But for Johnson, it wasn’t just about trusting your players. It’s about assuming this team’s identity, no matter what the scenario is.
“We are willing to run it whenever we want to. That’s how we feel.”
Opposing teams, be on notice. You can be certain, as they lead the team in fourth down attempts, that they’ll be going for it more often than not. But what play they’re going to run? That’s essentially a complete guessing game now.