Dan Campbell: 'I was trying to give us an upper hand' with aggressive fourth down plays

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Dan Campbell's aggressive fourth-down decision making this season is supported by analytics, but if the Detroit Lions don't start converting more of those key situations, Campbell is ready to close the book on math.

Campbell said he reviewed all of the Lions' third- and fourth-and-short plays from this season after Sunday's 24-14 loss to the Chicago Bears and is re-evaluating how to approach those downs.

"I was trying to give us an upper hand," Campbell said. "Well, you know what, I need to look at that. And we’ve got to be a lot better. And we’re going to have to live in that world in practice. That’s going to have to be the main focus for us to continue down that road. Those are the facts, cause we’re not good enough there right now, third and fourth down, 2 to 3 (yards to go)."

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The Lions rank in the bottom quarter of the NFL in third- and fourth-down conversion percentage and failed to convert two fourth downs in the red zone Sunday.

In the second quarter, Jared Goff threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal from the 5, when the Lions eschewed an easy field goal to go for a touchdown.

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Later in the game, Goff threw wide of Amon-Ra St. Brown on fourth-and-1 from the 8, a play that essentially ended any hopes of a Lions comeback.

The sports analytics firm EdjSports said the Lions increased their chances of winning by trying to convert both plays, and especially in the last instance, even though a field goal would have cut their deficit to one score.

Campbell seemed amused Monday when told people were debating his decision making. He defended the play calls for a second straight day, and said analytics are important to him in those situations, but not the overriding factor.

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"That’s how I wanted to start the season, but we’re not good enough right now, we’re not functioning well enough right now, or efficiently well enough to continue down that road until we really try to work on it, and then let’s see if we can improve it and get it to where we want," he said.

For the season the Lions are 7 of 15 on third-and-3 or less, and 3 of 7 on fourth-and-shorts.

Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams stiff arms Chicago Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith during the first half Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Chicago.
Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams stiff arms Chicago Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith during the first half Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Chicago.

They have converted all four of their rushing attempts on third- and fourth-and-1, and are 4 for 8 passing in the same situations.

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While NFL teams have trended more heavily to passing on short-yardage plays in recent years, Campbell acknowledged one change he is considering is running the ball more often on those downs with Jamaal Williams and behind the Lions' big offensive line.

The Lions, who played most of Sunday without their two best linemen, Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker, and are expected to be without them again this week, finished 1 of 3 on fourth downs against the Bears. Their only conversion came on a fourth-and-1 pass midway through the fourth quarter.

"That was kind of one of the things I was saying is that all of that stuff, we’re going to re-evaluate all of our third-and-short type situations," Campbell said. "And figure out exactly what we need to do, what’s going to be best for us moving forward. Look, I don’t disagree with you in the fact that Jamaal ran his rear off yesterday. He was on point. And so, look, it’s certainly something we’re going to look at."

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

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Jamaal Williams could help Detroit Lions in short-yardage