Notes: Dan Campbell’s fourth-down decisions backed by data

Pride of Detroit

The second season of the Dan Campbell era is in the books, and his willingness to take calculated chances on offense to keep possession of the ball did not slow down in 2022. Campbell’s willingness to go for it on fourth down has been a breath of fresh air from the prior regime, and a clear sign that the Lions are striving to make proper use of analytics. He has been confident and decisive, a critical element of being successfully aggressive.

A chart from the folks at SumerSports covering the 2022 season took a slight twist on the usual Ben Baldwin-style decision bot method of evaluating fourth-down decisions with their effect on win probability. Instead of counting up the number of times a coach made an analytically good or bad decision, SumerSports summed up the net win probability effects of each coach’s choices during the season. Although their chart attempts to incorporate other (less frequent) decisions like timeout usage and two-point conversions, it’s really the fourth-down conversion attempts that power Dan Campbell to third place:

In 2021, the Detroit Lions flipped from being one of the least likely to try for a fourth-down conversion (under former head coach Matt Patricia) to one of the most likely (under Campbell). In fact, according to Football Outsiders’ annual Aggressiveness Index, the Payton disciple’s attitude of taking it to the defense in 2021 ran quite a bit ahead of even the league-wide increase in aggressiveness that forced FO to re-calibrate their index. From an article Football Outsiders posted in February 2022, the Lions head coach was fourth-highest on that index among active head coaches in 2021 and ranked second overall among all coaches covering the 2018-2021 timespan (Matt Patricia was 51st).

Going for it on fourth down doesn’t always work out, and when the Lions fail to convert it can be infuriating. That’s just football, though. The other team is playing hard too, and sometimes it’s still the right call even if you don’t get the outcome you want. But when it does work out, hooo boy.

Wouldn’t trade this aggressiveness for the world, and I hope it continues into next season. Now, on to the rest of your weekend Notes:

  • The current leadership in the Lions organization has a fan:
  • Two former Lions quarterbacks beefed over cucumbers in tacos:

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