In truth, the Lions’ aggressive fourth-down calls are more a reflection of the modern NFL than they are a brazen anomaly. These types of calls are increasingly common because they’re supported by analytics, and in both instances on Sunday, statistical models aligned with Campbell’s calls. That type of forward thinking is one of the reasons for Detroit’s turnaround under him—until it backfired in spectacular fashion.
Despite the outcome, Campbell’s decision was backed by something better than his gut. It’s called data. [One popular model] said the Lions had an 85% chance of winning by going for it, and 82% if they kicked the field goal.
Later on, with less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Lions now trailing by three, Campbell faced another critical decision on a fourth-and-3. Again, the model recommended going for it. This time, it boosted Detroit’s win probability to 28% versus 26% kicking the field goal.
I have zero problem with the 4th down calls. Even without advanced analytics it has been well known for decades that NFL coaches are way too conservative on 4th down. And the reason for this is if they go for it and fail they get roundly criticized, just like we’re seeing with Campbell.
The part that puzzled me was Detroit’s meltdown in the 2nd half, especially the offense. Suddenly Goff was flinging balls where there were no receivers to catch them and if he didn’t, the receivers couldn’t hold onto the ball. Specifically, the first 4th and short pass hit Josh Reynolds in the hands. Campbell had a play in his back pocket he thought would work, and should have worked, but his player didn’t execute. Reynolds had another key drop too on 3rd and 9.
Then there was Purdy’s bomb to Aiyuk that 100% should have been intercepted (hit Vildor in the face mask!) but somehow Aiyuk made a miracle catch. Even if Vildor had just managed to break it up it would made a big difference because SF was back on their on 40 or something. Instead it became an easy touchdown.
In the other game, Lamar Jackson was playing lights out until he inexplicably threw an interception in triple coverage. Huge mental error in what otherwise was a masterful performance.
The vital thing for us out here in NorCal was that in the end the Niners got their act together in that 2nd half, tied it up in, what, 10 minutes? And then the miraculous catch didn’t hurt either… Back at the Half we were all fearing the worst, but in the end, they all pulled it off…
I don’t think that the analytics takes into account enough data to make up for the 2-3% gains for those calls. They certainly don’t take “momentum” into account (according to other articles I’ve read) which also helps amplify a home field advantage, crowd noise, etc.
It is unclear if the analytics also takes into account if a loss means the end of the season vs just the missed points late in any game.
But I applaud the Lions (and others) taking more risks on 4th and short all season.
Good to see it out on the West Coast, Seahawks gave the Niners some tough games, would be rooting for them if the Niners hadn’t made it happen and they had…
We drove up, stayed by the Space Needle last October, parked the truck in the basement, Ubered or walked everywhere… lots to do & see, some great restaurants, but a bit of a drive from Sonoma County, CA… Used to have close friends out in Bridgeport, on the Columbia, so many trips over the years…