While Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell owned up to some of his more obvious late-game decisions against the Minnesota Vikings—including admitting he 100 percent made the wrong decision on a late field goal attempt that gave Minnesota good field position for their game-winning drive—one potential mistake went unaddressed on Sunday night.
With seven minutes and change remaining in the game and a running clock, the Lions were up three and looking to drain as much clock while adding to their score. The Lions actually had a somewhat successful drive, taking 10 plays, gaining 43 yards and milking 4:20 of precious time off the clock. But they could have burned a lot more clock.
On half of those 10 plays, the Lions had a running clock, but decided to snap the football with more than 10 seconds left on the play clock.
That means, theoretically, they could have burned at least another 50 seconds off the clock.
On Monday, Campbell explained that it was important for him to keep the rhythm of the offense going and to not go into a more conservative four-minute mode too early in the game.
“Some if it becomes just rhythm of play,” Campbell said. “Even though you’re running it, you’re on the road. It’s loud. You hate to have your offensive linemen up there too long.
“Now, you could always break, get to the huddle and go, but I think that – I think you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to be careful as to when you start going into four-minute mode I think in this league. Everything has shifted so much offensively, and especially when they had three timeouts, you’ve got to be careful, not at the expense of getting out of rhythm. And sometimes when you sit and milk and then, ‘Alright, now here we go.’ It can mess with your rhythm a little bit, so certainly there was a time and place, I’m not saying that, but I didn’t feel like we were quite in that mode yet.”
I can understand some of the logic there. Rhythm is something the Lions have really emphasized this offseason, and there is something to also be said about keeping the defense off-balanced and guessing when it comes to the snap.
But this strategy doesn’t exactly match up with his offensive play calling. During that drive, the Lions called eight running plays to just two passing plays (one of which was dictated by a third-and-8 situation). Maybe they weren’t technically in four-minute mode, but it’s clear their play calling was at least partially motivated by the hopes to drain clock. If that’s the case, then I’m not sure keeping a consistent tempo should hold precedence over erasing nearly a full minute extra off the clock.
Regardless, it’s hard to say whether the Lions would have won the game had they run the play clock down further on this drive. The Vikings certainly would have acted differently offensively with fewer time left, and it’s hard to predict what would have happened. That said, it’s also true that giving the ball back to the Vikings with fewer time undoubtedly would have put the Lions in a better situation to win the game.