The Detroit Lions lost their aggressiveness late in the fourth quarter against the Vikings, and left US Bank Stadium with a loss.
For most of the game Sunday, the Detroit Lions looked up to the task of ending a 10-game overall road losing streak and a streak of losses on the road in Minnesota. The defense was mostly solid, and the offense was a mix of good and aggressive.
Perhaps spurred by Austin Siebert’s doink of a 48-yard field goal attempt off the right upright after the first drive, Dan Campbell decided to be aggressive. Due in part to struggling to convert third downs (3-for-16 for the game), the Lions went for it six times on fourth down on Sunday, converting four. That fit the template of last season, when Campbell routinely threw caution to the wind and went for it on fourth down a single-season league record number of times.
The Lions led 14-0 early and 24-14 late, as the defense fell short in some moments and cornerback Amani Oruwariye practically begged to be benched with multiple penalties. But with an opportunity to put the game away, Campbell lost his aggressiveness.
Dan Campbell loses his aggressiveness, and Lions lose game to the Vikings
The Lions went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Vikings’ 31-yard line with less than four minutes left. Jamaal Williams was stuffed, and Minnesota took over at their own-30 with an opportunity to tie the game or take the lead.
But the Lions defense held, as Minnesota was in a four-down situation and didn’t convert.
The Lions got it into Vikings’ territory, then had a fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 36. But Campbell elected to have Seibert attempt a field goal, toward the end of US Bank Stadium that apparently had doors open and where air flow had seemingly impacted previous kicks.
Siebert missed the 54-yard attempt, and the Vikings covered 56 yards on back-to-back completions from Kirk Cousins to K.J. Osborn to take a 28-24 lead they held onto.
Williams being stopped on the previous fourth down is an easy reason for a “try to get points” approach on the final fourth down situation. But that leaves aside that it was hardly guaranteed with a 54-yard kick, which is no chip shot in perfect conditions. And it was also toward a tricky end of the stadium.
It’s easy to be aggressive when you’re a 3-13-1 team with no expectations, as the Lions were last year. It’s different to be aggressive when there’s something actually at stake, like winning or losing a game against a division opponent.
Without diving into probability metrics, there wasn’t much difference between the two worst-case scenarios–a missed field goal and a failed fourth down attempt-for the Lions in that final fourth down situation. And Campbell put his tail between his legs to try a field goal that Seibert, to no fault of his own and with no knock on his ability, was going to have a tough time making.
Scratch the not diving into probability metrics thing, since there’s this.
Via Seth Walder of ESPN analytics:
Dan Campbell has made a lot of good decisions on 4th down, but late Sunday against the Vikings he made a costly error. Campbell elected to attempt a FG while up 3 points on 4th-and-4 at the Vikings’ 36. Win probabilities from ESPN’s model based on the decision: Go: 89.6% Kick: 85.4% Punt: 90.0% So the model slightly preferred punt as the best option over going for it. But it substantially preferred either over attempting the FG. The difference between being up 3 and 6 late is very small.
Sometimes coaches set their teams up to lose. By leaving his aggressiveness in his pocket at the most critical moment on Sunday, and I suppose not punting, Campbell set the Lions up to lose and to their credit the Vikings made him pay.