From the minute he walked in the door at Allen Park, new Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell has been trying to dispel the notion that he’s a old-school mentality kind of coach. He knew, given his gritty personality, that he would give off that impression, and he jumped ahead of it during his introductory press conference.
“I know there’s this preconceived notion about me, of course I want to run the football because there’s a mentality about it. There’s a physicality about it. It makes you better defensively as well, when you do it against yourself in practice,” Campbell admitted back in January.
He still carries that reputation with him, but on Wednesday during an appearance on the “Pat McAfee Show,” Campbell admitted that acting as the assistant head coach for the New Orleans Saints under Sean Payton has opened his mind up more to taking it to the defense.
“Until I got to Sean as a coach, I would tell you I was more conservative, more of a conservative-type thinker as it goes to this game,” Campbell said. “Much more traditional. You run the ball, you—I don’t want to say milk the clock—but ball control. Man, it’s third down, you’re trying to get the first. It’s fourth-and-2, we’re punting. All those things. You’re trying to be smart, and you’re allowing the opponent beat themselves.
“Look, that’s still a part of who I am, but I’ll tell you this, man, your eyes get opened. Sean, now, is on the other (end of the) spectrum. He’s very aggressive. If there’s anything I did learn from him, just from that side of it, you want to throw some defenses off? There’s a time to be aggressive, and use your special teams and use offense and try to get these defenses on their heels.”
Patyon has been one of the most aggressive coaches in NFL history. Per Football Outsiders’ “Aggressiveness Index,” which measures a coach’s decision to go for it on fourth down versus historical averages, Payton has two of the 15 most “aggressive” seasons since 1989.
So how will Campbell’s newly aggressive mentality manifest itself on the field? Will the Lions throw more deep balls? More trick plays? More early-down passes?
Those sort of things likely won’t be worked out until September, but Campbell did offer a little insight into what his thinking will be when it comes to decision making on fourth down. Campbell said he’ll use analytics as a tool in his toolbox, but the in-game context will also play a significant part in key decisions.
“That’s all fine that the numbers say when to go for it, when not to go for it, when to go for two, but tell me at what part of the game we’re in? How’s our defense playing? Who’s the quarterback whose on the other sideline? Then let’s decide what we want to do.
“To just say you’re just blindly going to lean on analytics makes no sense. Not in this sport. It just doesn’t man. There’s a physical, there’s a mental element to this game that is different than any other.”
In other words, don’t expect Dan Campbell to be on either end of the spectrum when it comes to in-game aggressiveness.