Detroit Lions close to setting NFL record for fourth down attempts

Dan Campbell has generally been very aggressive in his first season, and the record the Detroit Lions are on the verge of setting proves it.

During Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons. the Detroit Lions went 3-for-4 on fourth down attempts. One of those was their third successful fake punt of the season, and they went 2-for-2 on a field goal drive in the fourth quarter (a third fourth down attempt on said drive seemed worthy). The only fourth down miss came on Tim Boyle’s Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half.

Per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the Lions lead the NFL with 36 fourth down attempts this season, as Campbell has set aside conventional thinking to try to give his undermanned team any edge he can find. They have converted 18 times (50 percent; tied for 17th in the NFL) including 10 times on 4th-and-1.

Detroit Lions lined up to set 4th down attempt record

The NFL record for fourth down attempts in a season is held by the New England Patriots in 1995, with 39 (they converted 17). The Patriots went 6-10 that season under Bill Parcells–who Campbell played for on the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-2005. That was of course a 16-game season, whereas Campbell and the 2021 Lions have 17 games. But the way it’s going, Campbell won’t need a 17th game to set the record.

During his Monday press conference, Campbell was not aware of being on the verge of setting an NFL record as he explained why he has been so aggressive on fourth down.

I don’t know, when you feel like you have trust in your players running the play, or where the games at, I don’t know, it feels right, so I want to do it,” Campbell said.

“I think you have to feel good about your players and the plan, and if you do, I think you go for it. I want to send a message that we’re playing to win and we’re not playing to lose. There’s a time to be conservative and a time to be aggressive and so I just think it’s a little more in my nature to roll the dice, if you will.”

Campbell’s comments on Monday make what he did late in Sunday’s game even more curious, opting to kick a field goal inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line down 20-13 with less than three minutes to go. He explained after the game that he was expecting to get the ball back quickly, which did happen via a takeaway by the Lions’ defense, but it was still a tail-between-the-legs move for a coach who has tended to let it all hang out this season.