Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell explains why he’s glad NFL still allowing controversial play

Detroit Free Press

When push comes to shove, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell is happy the NFL is leaving one of its most controversial plays in place.

Speaking at the NFL’s annual spring meeting last week, Campbell said he was pleased the league’s competition committee did not recommend a ban on the push play that rose in prominence last season thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I’m all good with it,” Campbell said. “I’ve got no problem, man. Because here’s why, man. I think of it defensively, man, you’ve got to have a plan to stop it. And that’s what fires me up. We’re going to have a plan to stop it.”

The Eagles ranked fourth in the NFL in fourth down conversion percentage last season (68.8%) and converted 34 of 38 quarterback sneaks (89.5%) into first downs, according to NBC Sports.

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Playing behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, Philadelphia often employed the sneak, with quarterback Jalen Hurts burrowing for yardage behind center Jason Kelce while getting pushed from behind by teammates.

Hurts gained six first downs on sneaks in the Super Bowl, which prompted some in the league to suggest the pushing part of the play should be outlawed.

The NFL previously banned pushing a runner to gain yardage, but modified its rule book in 2005.

“I think some defensive coaches are bringing that up,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said jokingly Feb. 28 at the NFL combine. “No, we’ll play whatever rules they have. But it was obviously a very successful play for us. … Very successful play for us, but it wasn’t the only thing we were doing off of it. We had some exciting plays that came off of it when the defenses were trying to stop the play they thought (was coming).”

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The Lions ranked among the NFL’s most effective fourth down teams last season, converting 40.8% (11th in the league). They were 6 of 10 on fourth-and-1 rushes, but rarely called quarterback sneaks.

“Our analytics crew always is pushing for more quarterback sneaks and I’m all for it,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said at the combine. “But I also love explosive plays. I don’t know how many quarterback sneaks have been explosive over the last few years. We had a couple explosives on short-yardage, both run game and pass game. There is a little give or take.”

Asked if pushing should be outlawed, Johnson said, “I’m good either (way). Will we do it? I’m sure we can, but like I said, to each their own.”

NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay said the topic was debated at rules meetings after the season and talked about again with ownership last week.

The committee, McKay said, is “definitely split on the play,” which was changed in 2005 because downfield officials had a difficult time distinguishing between blocks and pushes on some goal line plays.

“We did not think it would become strategy, and here we are,” McKay said. “But there was no — nobody made a rules proposal nor was there enough support on the committee for us to propose a rules change, so it will stay in. We certainly look at all the injury data, see if there’s anything there (that needs to be changed in the future).”

Campbell said he’s confident defenses will find a way to stop the push play, and once they do, it won’t be an issue anymore.

“That’s like my goal is that we come back here next year and it’ll be like, ‘All right, we can’t do that anymore,’” he said. “So, listen, you’ve got something good, then defensively, you’ve got to find a way to stop it. So this’ll be fun.”

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

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