Only 3 head coaches were less aggressive on 4th down than Matt Patricia in 2020

Pride of Detroit

There were a lot of things that Matt Patricia failed to create in Detroit during his three years as the team’s head coach. He failed to establish a defense that could either stop the run or slow down the opposing quarterback. He didn’t create a winning culture that attracted free agents of all types. And most importantly, he failed to build a winner by any stretch of the imagination.

It also turns out he didn’t create a very aggressive mentality when it comes to the Detroit Lions’ 2020 season.

Football Outsiders created a metric for head coaches called the “Aggressiveness Index.” The statistic measures fourth-down attempts against the league average, to see which NFL coaches are more likely to go for it, and which are more likely to kick. Here are Football Outsiders explaining their metric in a little more detail:

Jim Armstrong created this metric which measures how often a team goes for a first down in various fourth down situations, compared to the league average in those situations. It was introduced in Pro Football Prospectus 2006. The NFL average is represented by 1.0. A coach over 1.0 is more aggressive, and a coach under 1.0 is less aggressive.

Also worth noting about the metric is that it does not include fourth down situations that are obvious go-for-it scenarios, including trailing by 15+ points in the third quarter, 9+ points in the fourth quarter, or any time in the last five minutes of the game.

Patricia ended up ranked 29th out of 32 coaches last year on the Aggressiveness Index, going for it just four times in 57 opportunities. Though his 1.10 Aggressiveness Index score suggests he went for it more than the average coach, that’s compared to NFL coaches in history, not just last year. In 2020, the average score was 1.6, well above Patricia’s score.

What’s also fascinating are the identities of the three coaches who were even less aggressive than Patricia: Joe Judge, Brian Flores, and Vic Fangio. Both Judge and Flores come from the Patriots tree of coaches. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Obviously, just because a coach is aggressive doesn’t mean they’ll be successful. There were plenty of coaches low on the aggressiveness metric who saw plenty of success last year (Mike Tomlin 1.21 AI; Pete Carroll 1.26) and there were a handful of aggressive coaches who didn’t see a lot of wins last year (Doug Pederson 2.64, Doug Marrone (1.96).

So where will the Lions fall on this list under new head coach Dan Campbell? While Campbell certainly has a bit of “old school” in his identity, which may lead to a less aggressive approach. However, you may remember Campbell saying he learned the value of an aggressive mentality from Saints head coach Sean Payton.

“Sean, now, is on the other (end of the) spectrum,” Campbell said. “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.”

Payton has notoriously been at the top of the aggressiveness index for years. Prior to 2020, he was responsible for two of the top 15 most aggressive seasons in the past 30 years. In 2020, his score was 1.73, good enough for 11th in the NFL.

Will Campbell follow that trend or forge his own path?

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