Dan Campbell has been notably aggressive in his two seasons as Lions head coach, but this year that and his overall decision-making contributed big-time to winning.
In Dan Campbell’s first season as head coach, the Detroit Lions set the NFL single-season record for fourth down attempts (41). During a 3-13-1 season, that aggressiveness was well-reasoned and came with no real tangible risk in terms of winning and losing.
Going into this season, with expectations a little higher for the Lions, it was going to be interesting to see if Campbell remained aggressive in terms of going for it on fourth down. A 9-8 record and a few wins by a solid margin led to a natural drop in volume of fourth-down attempts, but the Lions went 15-for-27 on them.
Two memorable fourth down conversions came in the fourth quarter of the Week 18 win over the Green Bay Packers. Another was the game-winning touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Brock Wright against the New York Jets in Week 15.
Hindsight always makes it easy to criticize or praise a head coach’s decision making–be it going for it or not, clock management, timeout allocation, etc. Campbell has of course not been immune to the negative side of that, when said decisions have to be made quickly and obviously don’t always work out.
Data shows Dan Campbell as one of league’s best decision makers this season
Using Win Probability Added Over Expected, Sumer Sports has tabulated some key areas (fourth down, timeout usage, two-point conversions and delay of game avoidance) to reach a total win probability added over expected percentage and rank NFL head coaches thusly based on it.
There’s Campbell, in third place only behind Nick Sirianni and Sean McDermott, with a 45.2 percent Total WPAOE. A follow-up from Sumer said this win probability added metric has nothing to do with the talent on a roster, and any perception of a coach over or underachieving based on that.
The not-great marks for Campbell in the two-point conversion and delay of game avoidance columns feel less significant compared to fourth-down decisions and good timeout usage.
So simply not being a huge negative in those spots is fine, with knowing when to go for it and managing the clock/situations well far more important to winning. Campbell passed in those areas this season, particularly on fourth down. There are no signs his approach will ever change, and it shouldn’t.