In Dan Campbell's first season as head coach, the Detroit Lions went for it on fourth down a single-season NFL record 41 times. Last year, they went for it on fourth down 37 times.
There's a line that Campbell has occasionally struggled to toe with that fourth down aggression, putting his team in a bad spot by doing it when he probably shouldn't have or reeling it in when he should have kept stepping on the proverbial gas pedal.
Going for it on fourth down is no longer any sort of taboo, and analytics would say do it in prime spots on the field and shorter distances. Not that Campbell needs the data-backed invitation, but often times the probability metrics are positive on his decisions to go for it on fourth down.
Defense was optional during Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, a 41-38 win for the Lions. That said, 3rd and 4th-and-goals were a weird thing for both teams, and alongside Campbell Chargers' head coach Brandon Staley is noted for going for it on fourth down a lot too.
The best version of aggressive Dan Campbell was on full display Sunday
Analytics-driven green light aside, going for it on fourth down (and doing it successfully) is a marriage of a head coach having feel for situations and the utmost confidence his players will get it done. We know Campbell has the latter belief in his players, and he's certainly improving in terms of the feel for situations beyond just showing how gutsy he is.
The Lions had a 4th-and-2 after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter on Sunday. A field goal attempt would have been at the top of Riley Patterson's range, and a miss would have given the Chargers good field position against a Lions' defense that was incapable of stopping them. A failed fourth down attempt would of course also give the Chargers the ball back with a legit chance at a game-winning drive. Even a made field goal would have left a lot of time for an ensuing drive.
Campbell decided to go for it, and Jared Goff completed a six-yard pass to tight end Sam LaPorta. Three kneel-downs later, Patterson made a more manageable 41-yarder to win the game as the clock ran out.
After the game, Campbell had the explanation you'd expect for that final fourth down decision.
The Lions were 4-for-5 on fourth down during Sunday's game. There won't always be days like this, but against the Chargers Campbell knew he had to keep an overmatched defense off the field if he could and it worked well.