Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell came under a little fire this week after some unorthodox decisions during the team’s 37-31 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. However, according to one statistical model, Campbell’s in-game decisions have actually helped the Lions more than any other NFL coach has helped their respective teams.
Eric Eager, formerly of PFF, now with analytics company SumerSports, recently tweeted that Campbell has added more “win probability” points with his in-game decisions than any other NFL coach.
#Lions head coach Dan Campbell leads the league in WP added over expected on fourth-down, 2PAT, timeout, etc. decisions through two games— Eric Eager (@ericeager_) September 19, 2023
Campbell has regularly been at the top of these sorts of rankings since taking over the team in 2021. In his first year, the Lions went for it on fourth down at an almost historic rate, and the analytics community praised him for leading the pack in “statistically correct” decisions. Last season, Campbell finished third in win probability added.
That hasn’t stopped many from criticizing his individual choices. On Sunday against the Seahawks, Campbell opted to go for it on fourth down in three different instances and only converted once. Still, on Monday, Campbell did not express any regret in any of the three of those decisions.
“I still feel good about (it),” Campbell said. “I mean, look, I don’t feel good because we lost, but I go back, I knew I wanted to play that game a certain way early, but also knew, ‘Look, if it doesn’t quite work out that way, then we go the long road and you’ve got to win it at the end,’ and we weren’t able to do that, so. But I don’t feel like I should’ve done it different necessarily.”
For what it’s worth, Ben Baldwin’s analytical fourth-down model supported two of Campbell’s decisions to go for it on fourth down, but did not agree with the decision to pass on a 49-yard field goal on a fourth-and-4 early in the game:
This week, Campbell also came under fire for Detroit seemingly playing for the tie at the end of the regulation. The Lions, down three points, got the ball at midfield with 1:44 left in the game and all three timeouts in hand. After gaining 23 yards on the first two plays of the drive, Detroit let the clock bleed all the way down to 32 seconds before running their next play. And instead of continuing to push the ball downfield, their next three passes went 2, 6, and 3 yards past the line of scrimmage. If they had converted on third down, they would have had around 19 seconds left from inside the 20-yard line with two timeouts left.
Campbell admitted after the game that the team’s primary goal was to make sure the Seahawks didn’t get the ball back in regulation with time to score, but he believes if the team had converted on third down they were still in a great position to win.
“Here’s what I knew, they had two timeouts and I did not want to give that ball back, that was number one, do not give this ball back,” Campbell said. Later adding, “To me, we had plenty of time to score a touchdown. It wasn’t about the time to me. We ended up in a fourth down – I never felt like we were crunched against the clock to score a touchdown. We didn’t feel that offensively because we still had time, we had timeouts, and it wasn’t that we just – we weren’t able to convert.”
As for the scaled-back aggression with the offensive play-calling, Campbell didn’t feel that was an accurate description of their strategy and defended offensive coordinator Ben Johnson this week during a radio spot.
“We methodically drove it down, I love what Ben (Johnson) called,” Campbell said. “I thought (Jared) Goff did a heck of a job. We missed on a throw there, but ultimately we had plenty of time to answer. But we did what we needed to do to get into overtime.”