It’s time for Detroit Lions' Dan Campbell to stop being so aggressive on offense

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CHICAGO – At some point, and hopefully soon, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell will have to accept something about his team.

Psst, Dan. Your team kind of stinks.

Please don’t take that as an insult. It’s not. It’s a stark reality laid bare in a deflating 24-14 loss Sunday to the offensively awful Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. It drop-kicked the Lions’ record to 0-4, one of two winless NFL teams.

The loss was made all the more disappointing for two reasons: The first was that Lions’ poor performance on both sides of the ball was a letdown after last week’s did-everything-but-win performance against the Baltimore Ravens.

The second reason was the main reason: It didn’t have to be this way, if not for Campbell’s insistence on being aggressive.

BIRKETT'S GRADES: Dan Campbell gets D for decision making in loss to Bears

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell looks on in the second half Oct. 3, 2021 against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell looks on in the second half Oct. 3, 2021 against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Look, when you hire a guy whose first public comments are about biting kneecaps and various other parts of an opponent’s anatomy, it’s only logical that you’re asking for a coach who checks in at about an 11 on the Richter scale of aggression.

I get that. And I like Campbell’s aggressiveness. To a point.

But Sunday in Chicago was not the time for the Lions to be aggressive on offense. The Bears entered the game with the NFL’s worst overall offense, averaging 191.7 yards. They had the second-worst scoring offense at 13.3 points per game. They were starting a rookie quarterback in Justin Fields who had been sacked nine times.

The Lions only needed to play reasonably well on defense and keep pace on offense by limiting mistakes and coming away with points whenever possible.

The defense deserved most of the blame for its poor performance, namely its inability to stop the run and more struggles in the secondary that led to big plays.

But we all knew the defense was going to be the weak point of this team. A bad, thin unit has been made worse by injuries. It’s ugly and hard to watch, but it’s understandable.

The offense is another story, because it has promise and potential. But Campbell’s mismanagement of scoring situations against the Bears cost the Lions a good chance to win this very winnable game.

For the record, I’ve written that wins don’t really matter that much this season. I still stand by that, because we’re really going to measure the Lions this season on their execution and effort more than we’ll measure them on the difference between winning four, five or six games.

That’s where Campbell’s aggressiveness comes in. We must judge him on that because, frankly, he relied too heavily on his penchant for aggressiveness instead of tempering his own instincts and settling for those meek and meager things we call field goals.

Three measly points? Yuck, right?

Right, yuck. Unless you don’t mind winning ugly. Unless you understand that discretion is the better part of valor.

There were two key instances when Campbell went for it on fourth down inside Chicago’s 10-yard line when he shouldn’t have. This was his explanation: “Just my gut tells me to go for it. You know, you get down there that tight and you get seven out of it. You know, that's a good thing. And then if something – if it doesn't work out, which you don't want, we got them pinned back there.”

Except there are two problems with that logic. By not coming away with any points, the Lions unnecessarily created a larger deficit against an offensively challenged opponent.

When the Lions were aggressive and Jared Goff threw an incompletion on fourth-and-goal from the Bears’ 5, they trailed, 14-0, with 9:35 left in the second quarter.

When Goff threw another incompletion on fourth-and-1 from the Chicago 8 with 4:15 left in the game, the Lions trailed, 24-14.

You can site all the computer-nerd statistics you want, but it’s basic competitive logic to keep yourself in the game as long as you can, especially when you’re not playing an offensive juggernaut. A field goal early would have changed the complexion of the game. A field goal late followed by an onside recovery and you’ve got a chance to win.

This is where the head coach comes in. He must be the voice of measured reason and calm. That’s not easy during the fog of war that is an NFL game in crunch time. But that’s what a successful head coach must do. He must bring order and intelligence to an intense, emotional game.

After the game, I asked Campbell how much the human element played a part in his decision to put his trust in the offense in scoring situations.

“Yeah, no, I do,” he said. “I put a lot on the offense. I think a lot of that offensive line. Jared's a veteran quarterback. I feel like we've got a couple of runners and so I do. I think a lot of this, you find out how you perform under pressure, you know? And not just players but also as a unit, as a group.”

I hate that the NFL is a largely conservative league when it comes to offense. I like coaches who take chances and believe in their players.

But here’s another thing I like: A team learning how to do whatever it needs to do in order to win its first game.

Maybe that’s a lesson Campbell took away from Sunday. On a gloomy day in this city of big shoulders, I hope Campbell walked off the field having learned a lesson in anatomy. Sometimes you have to forget about the kneecaps, ignore your gut, work your way upward past your heart and use your head a little more often.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' Dan Campbell must temper his aggressiveness