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Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell is the unlikely face of fourth-down aggression

2T4M336 Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell watches against the Las Vegas Raiders during an NFL football game in Detroit, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Perhaps the most impressive part of Dan Campbell’s career as a head coach is that he isn’t what people expect him to be.

A giant human being and former NFL blocking tight end, Campbell, on the surface, looks like a classic meathead coach whose point of view would be rooted in smashmouth football and archaic thinking.

His introductory comments to the media about kneecap biting only poured fuel onto the fire of that cliché, but Campbell’s tenure as head coach of the Detroit Lions has been characterized by a largely “progressive” approach.

That approach was on full display this week against the Los Angeles Chargers and should be held up as an example of progressive coaching contributing to positive results for the team.

All too often, these decisions are seen through the prism of what could go wrong. Coaches believe the analytics always lean toward going for it — to be overly aggressive — in the pursuit of a win percentage point here or there. But they’re the people whose jobs are on the line when the outcome goes against them. The pushback is constantly framed in a way that makes it clear their focus is on the worst possible outcome.

Most coaches, even those who embrace analytics and the extra information they provide, tend to be more conservative than the models. This week, Campbell was more aggressive than the models, even with everything on the line.

The Lions went for it five times on fourth down and converted four of them, including one on the final drive that effectively won the game.

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