The analytics supported it, and Dan Campbell said the look was there.
But had the Detroit Lions run a different play on third down, Campbell said they would not have needed to go for the highly scrutinized fourth-and-1 they failed to convert late in Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings.
“If I could have a play over in that game, it wouldn’t have been the fourth-and-1, it would have been the third-and-2 right before it,” Campbell said Monday. “That’s the one I regret. Cause I wish that I’d given a better play to Jamaal Williams there and we wouldn’t even have been sitting in a fourth-and-1.”
The Lions led 23-21 with just under 5 minutes to play when they lined up on third-and-a-long-1 from their own 28-yard line.
Williams took a handoff from Jared Goff on a dive up the middle, but was stopped just short of a first down by Vikings defensive end Kenny Willekes, who beat a pulling block by T.J. Hockenson.
Campbell elected to try and convert on fourth-and-short, a move that increased the Lions’ chances of winning by 4½ percentage points. When the Lions failed, the Vikings took over at the Lions’ 19-yard line and scored the go-ahead touchdown six plays later.
On fourth down, Campbell eschewed another run — the Vikings had stopped the Lions on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak early in the game — and called a play-action pass designed for Williams in the flat.
Linebacker Blake Lynch did not bite on a poorly-executed run fake and knocked a fumble loose from Goff’s hand.
After Minnesota’s go-ahead touchdown, the Lions answered with their own score as time expired for their first win.
“As far as the fourth-and-1, look, did I love it? No,” Campbell said. “However, if we would have — we can be so much better on how we should have done that play. Just the little details to it, we would have outflanked the defense, so there again, a couple of little things there procedurally in the way that we needed to function on that play and it would have been there. So it didn’t work out, but more than anything I regret the third-and-2 that put us into that.”
The Lions (1-10-1) have converted 42.3% of their fourth down attempts this season, of 25, which ranks 26th in the league. They are tied with Washington for most fourth down tries, and tied with four other teams for most pass plays (seven) on fourth-and-1 or 2.
“Hindsight it’s easy to say (we should have run it with Williams on fourth down) because Jamaal’s been so good,” Campbell said. “But there again, we, as a staff, we go through these calls, what’s our first call? Are we good if there’s a sneak ability or opportunity we take it and we did, and so you live and die by gambling sometimes.”
Godwin Igwebuike played as the Lions’ two-minute back Sunday, a role usually reserved for the injured D’Andre Swift, and delivered one of the key plays on the final drive when he caught a short pass in the middle of the field on third-and-10 that he turned into a 13-yard gain.
As important as the first down, Igwebuike dodged two tacklers on his way to the sideline and got out of bounds to stop the clock.
“Great play,” Campbell said. “That was unbelievable.”
Campbell said he instructs players to split tacklers when they catch a pass in the middle of the field on a two-minute, but “if you really think you can (get to the sideline), then you better do it – and he did.”
“It might have been a little risky,” Igwebuike said Monday. “I mean, I saw (a tackler) coming for my legs. I figure, if it’s me one-on-one with a corner and I have the angle, put a little sauce on him. I picked myself. I’d say I got some strong legs on me. I seen him go low, kind of picked my feet up a little bit. (Running backs coach) Duce (Staley) talks about kind of picking up your feet and thankfully it worked.”