Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell changed aggressive 4th down approach vs. Bears — and it worked

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions have the most fourth down conversion attempts in the NFL through 10 weeks, but Lions coach Dan Campbell broke character in Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears when he kicked an early field goal rather than try and convert on fourth-and-4.

Campbell said Monday he “felt like that was the right move at that moment,” and insisted his decision does not signal a change in his aggressive approach. The Lions won, 31-30.

“Just with where the game was going, where I thought it would go, and we had a pretty good drive,” Campbell said. “We had to overcome a lot to get down there that first possession. We ended up with second-and-long, third-and-longs, we overcame them. And so I wanted to make sure we came away with points on that drive.”

After the Bears kicked a 33-yard field goal on the game’s opening possession, the Lions answered with a 14-play, 68-yard drive that stalled at the Chicago 7-yard line.

The Lions converted a third-and-5 and third-and-9 on the drive, but after Justin Jackson gained 6 yards on a short pass from Jared Goff on third-and-10, Campbell sent Michael Badgley on for a 25-yard field goal.

Badgley made the kick, but mathematically the Lions would have increased their likelihood of winning the game by trying to convert on fourth-and-4, according to the popular fourth down decision bot that analyzes every fourth down decision on Twitter.

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Last week, the Lions were stopped on a fourth-and-1 against the Green Bay Packers in a similar situation, when Goff threw incomplete to Tom Kennedy on fourth-and-1 from the 7 on the opening drive.

They went on to beat the Packers, 15-9.

On Sunday, the Lions converted their lone fourth down attempt, a fourth-and-goal from the Bears’ 2-yard line in the second quarter, when Goff threw a short touchdown pass to Brock Wright. They also stopped the Bears’ only fourth down try on Chicago’s final possession of the game.

For the season, the Lions are 10 of 23 (43.5%) on fourth down conversions, including two conversions on fake punts. Their opponents have converted six of 13 attempts (46.2%).

“I could’ve very easily gone for it,” Campbell said of his decision to kick. “But I just felt like that was the right thing to do for that moment.”

Pleasant ridge

Former Lions secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant has joined the Green Bay Packers staff as an offensive assistant, ESPN reported.

Pleasant, who was fired Oct. 31 amidst the Lions’ 1-6 start, worked with current Packers coach Matt LaFleur with the Washington football team in 2013. Pleasant was an offensive assistant on a Washington staff that also included current NFL head coaches Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay and Mike McDaniel. LaFleur was quarterbacks coach of the team.

“I joke with people all the time, I say the biggest mistake I ever made in my coaching career was leaving the offensive side of the ball,” Pleasant joked with the Free Press earlier this season.

The Lions are 2-0 since firing Pleasant and giving safeties coach Brian Duker elevated responsibilities with the defensive pass game.

After the Lions beat the Packers in their first game without Pleasant last week, Campbell called Pleasant “a hell of a coach.”

“He’s going to land on his feet and he’s going to rise back up again and he’s going to be probably a head coach one day,” Campbell said. “That’s how much I think of him. But that’s unfortunately, just where we were at.”

ESPN reported that Pleasant began working with the Packers last week.

Half measures

Campbell gave players what he called a “half” Victory Monday after beating the Bears and with two games in the next 10 days. The Lions visit the New York Giants on Sunday, then host the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving.

“These guys are continuing to put in the work,” Campbell said. “We haven’t changed what we do in that regard, and they continue to go, but it’s also I know what we’re getting ready to face, and then in this … 12-day window, whatever you want to call it. So it’s a semi-victory Monday. Those guys are responsible for, ‘Handle your groups, and you guys come in and lift together as a group and watch the film together and then get out of here. Treat the body and get out. Get ready to go for Wednesday.’ So, I’m trusting them.”

In the NFL, teams typically meet on Mondays to lift and review film, take Tuesday off, then practice Wednesday-Friday. Asked if he believed in Victory Mondays after beating the Packers, Campbell said yes, but that it was too early for one for his team.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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