Dan Campbell explains why he went conservative late vs. the Falcons

SideLion Report

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell went conservative late in Sunday’s game against the Falcons, and he has explained why.

Down 20-13 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the Detroit Lions went on a drive that took nearly 10-and-half minutes off the clock (17 plays, 66 yards). Facing 4th-and-5 at the Atlanta eight-yard line, head coach Dan Campbell opted for a field that Riley Patterson converted from 26 yards out.

There was less than three minutes left in the game, and a typically aggressive head coach went conservative. The Lions needed to get the ball back to win, and they needed a touchdown to boot.

After the game, Campbell explained the decision.

Via The Detroit Free Press.

It was just that I know I had three timeouts and I had a feeling that (Falcons coach Arthur Smith) was going to be conservative, and we were going to be able to stop the run and get the ball back,” Campbell said. “I felt very good about getting the ball back knowing that we would have plenty of time to go down and score.”

The Lions’ defense played very well on Sunday, but they had allowed points on four straight possessions when Campbell decided to put the game in the hands of Aaron Glenn’s unit. He was also counting on Falcons head coach Arthuer Smith going conservative to try and salt the game away.

Dan Campbell was bailed out by the Lions’ defense

Two Falcons runs on the ensuing possession forced the Lions to burn timeouts. Third down brought a bubble screen to wide receiver Russell Gage….and Lions’ linebacke Jalen Reeves-Maybin forced a fumble. Campbell felt like his team had “total control” of the game after the fumble.

We were going to go down and score,” he said. “But now at that point, you got to make sure you’re burning everything off the clock that you can. They still had timeouts. But I mean, it was set up, it was set up perfectly for us. Once again, Reeves freaking comes up with a big one. Like he’s done all year.”

The Lions took over at the Falcons’ 37-yard line, moving 28 yards in five plays. On first-and-goal with 33 seconds left, Tim Boyle threw a bad interception to seal the loss for Detroit.

Campbell’s decision reminds me a little of the decision made by Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur in last season’s NFC Championship Game, albeit with much lower stakes.

Taking a field goal to narrow the margin is fine in a vacuum. But on the back end you’re counting on one or more of too many things to get a positive outcome (the Falcons going conservative, getting a quick defensive stop, forcing a quick turnover…). And the clock is not your friend.

It just happened that Reeves-Maybin made a great play to get the ball back after just three plays, and in decent field position. If the Falcons don’t lose the ball and don’t quite get the first down, they either go for it or punt coming out of the two-minute warning. They probably punt on fourth down, and rely on their own defense to stop Boyle from leading a fairly long game-winning touchdown drive with one timeout.

Going for it instead of kicking the field goal is a do-or-die proposition for the Lions in that spot, with a first down to technically be gained shy of a touchdown. Campbell didn’t have faith the offense could get it done in that moment, instead opting for points and the hypothetical of getting another possession. That possession indeed came, in about as ideal a circumstance as could have come, but a process that strained good rationale practically sealed the loss before Boyle’s ill-advised throw.

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