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Dan Campbell needs to retool his 4th down conversion strategy

Dan Campbell is a Bill Parcells disciple, and it shows. 

He played under the Hall of Fame coach for three seasons with the Cowboys (2003-2005), and there, he picked up several traits from Parcells, which he’s now using as head coach of the Detroit Lions. Campbell learned how to build camaraderie with his players. He picked up skills to know how to push buttons and motivate players to excel. And lastly, Campbell learned when to hug players and when they needed a kick in the rear. These were all things he shared with “The Rich Eisen Show” in an interview this past July. 

But what about coaching Xs and Os? Because in my opinion, for the Lions to truly rebuild, they need Campbell’s tough coaching persona to change the team identity. At the same time, however, Campbell failed at the strategy element during Sunday’s 24-14 loss to the Chicago Bears. 

Proof of that is his aggressiveness on 4th downs during Sunday’s loss.

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell
Oct 3, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell looks on in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s examine the first one. Now to be fair to Campbell, it’s understandable why he elected to go for it in the first scenario. It was a 4th and 5 in the red zone. The Lions were already down 14 points. And with how the Bears’ offense was clicking, the Lions needed a touchdown badly. Also, you have to factor in that the Lions haven’t had the best luck at the kicker position this season.

Despite that, it was still extremely early in the game. Campbell has put his defense in position several times to step up and get a stop. Why not attempt a field goal here and walk away with some points on the board? After all, his defense stepped up on the very next drive. It wasn’t a situation where they had to go for it. 

Regardless, Campbell didn’t regret the decision. 

“My gut tells me to go for it,” Campbell told reporters. “You get down there that tight, and you get seven out of it. That’s a good thing. And if it doesn’t work out—which you don’t want—then you’ve got them pinned back there.”

Ok, fine. In that situation, it’s understandable, even though one can view it as questionable. 

However, on the last 4th down attempt, when it was 4th and 1, the Lions clearly should have kicked a field goal. At this point of the game, the Lions were already down 10 points. It was a two-score game. The Lions needed a field goal and a touchdown to tie the game at 24 apiece. Why not attempt a field goal here and then put the onus on your defense to make a play? Again, it’s understandable when you dive into the analytics, but at what point do you abandon that logic and play the cards you’re dealt? 

Ryan Santoso is unproven as a kicker, but he hasn’t missed a field goal attempt in his small sample size. A 35-yard field goal attempt (and make) is the longest of his career. That was well within his range on both kicks. 

There will be much chatter on the following week about whether that was the right call or not. But for a team that has struggled to put points on the board, kicking field goals should be an option for the Lions. 

So far this season, they’re 1-for-3 in the first half on fourth-down conversions and 30% overall (3-for-10). 

Dan Campbell has his work cut out for him as the Lions now head back to Detroit 0-4 and still searching for that first W.

Follow Kory Woods on Twitter at KoryEWoods.

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