There’s something strange about the NFL playoffs

There’s something strange about the NFL playoffs

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ENGLEWOOD, Calif. – Five thoughts on the Detroit Lions after Sunday’s thrilling 41-38 win over the Los Angeles Chargers:

Crucial advantage

It’s hard to overstate what coach Dan Campbell’s aggressive approach has meant to the Lions, and the confidence he has instilled in players with his willingness to make it happen on fourth down at almost any time on any part of the field.

“With our guy, I’m kind of leaning toward we’re going to go until he tells us we’re not,” quarterback Jared Goff said Sunday. “And it’s not just in that situation (at the Chargers’ end of the game), it’s kind of every quarter touchdown we get.”

Campbell’s boldest decision Sunday was to opt for the go-ahead pass to attempt a 44-yard field goal with 1:44 to play to try to convert a fourth-and-2. The Lions did just that, on a Goff pass to Sam LaPorta, and were able to run out the rest of the clock, sending Riley Patterson to kick the winning field goal as time expired, rather than giving Justin Herbert and the Chargers a chance to tie. Or steal the game

It was the right call, of course, given the way Herbert chopped up the Lions’ defense in the second half, but that doesn’t make it easy — and it wasn’t the only big fourth-down goal the Lions scored Sunday.

The Lions converted four of five fourth down attempts against the Chargers, and now have three games this year with more fourth down attempts than punts (and two more by the same amount). This is an amazing statistic when you consider the conservative nature of the NFL, and it has given the Lions a decisive advantage over opponents.

In addition to the confidence Campbell instilled in players through his decision-making, his aggressive style opened up the playbook for offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, one of the most intelligent play-callers in the NFL.

On third-and-10 from the Chargers’ 33-yard line late in the third quarter Sunday, Johnson called for a quick pass to Calif Raymond that went for 5 yards. Johnson knew he had two plays to get the first down, so while a lot of teams would throw on the sticks in this situation and settle for a long field goal (albeit with a more reliable shot from long range than the ones the Lions have on their roster), the Lions were satisfied. By trying to get 10 yards in two cuts.

On fourth-and-5, the passing situation was clear, as David Montgomery ran up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown.

The Lions ultimately fell short on this drive when they were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but more often than not, those decisions resulted in a four-point touchdown and swing.

“Dan and Ben, the ball-callers,” Montgomery said. “You should have some appreciation for that.”

Favorite award

Campbell is the NFL’s favorite Coach of the Year in a season where there are plenty of worthy candidates for the award.

What DeMeco Ryans did with the Houston Texans is masterful. Having this team, with a future star rookie quarterback, in the playoffs one year after going 3-13-1 would be enough to win the award most years. Mike Tomlin does more with less than any coach in the NFL. Nick Sirianni, Andy Reid, and Kevin O’Connell also deserve a mention.

But no coach has had as direct an impact on winning games as Campbell has this season. I think his fourth-and-2 decision late in Sunday’s game was the difference between a Lions win and a loss. The punt fake from his own 17-yard line in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs remains the call of the season (remember, it led to the Lions’ first touchdown in what turned out to be a 21-20 win).

I don’t know if Campbell will become the first Lions coach to win the award since Wayne Fontes in 1991 (and the third Lions coach ever, along with George Wilson in 1957). But I believe his decision-making process will provide a model for future NFL coaches to follow, and you can bet that as his coaching tree sprouts its own branches — Johnson, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, and perhaps linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard down the road — his protégés They will do it. Take a similarly aggressive approach.

Common: The Lions are proving they are versatile enough to win penalties, but they shouldn’t try

Pass the patch

Now for the bad from Sunday: the defense.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad. The Lions held the Chargers to two first downs on their first four possessions and did a fair job of stopping the run (3.5 yards per carry) all day.

But they gave up 38 points for the second time in three games and had no answer for arguably the best quarterback receiving duo (Herbart and Keenan Allen) on their schedule.

To go where they can go in January, the Lions need to correct a pass defense that ranks 20th in the league at 231.6 yards per game. The secondary can be very undisciplined at times, and the pass rush is often a one-man show. The Lions will need the best from both groups to beat the Philadelphia Eagles or San Francisco 49ers in the postseason.

We’re past the trade deadline, so any solutions the Lions can find to defend themselves will have to come internally. If safety CJ Gardner-Johnson is able to return for the postseason, that should help.

But the Lions can’t count on winning on penalties in the playoffs, as points are historically difficult to come by after the wild card round. They need to improve quickly on that side of the ball.

Relationship lament

Patterson’s lack of leg strength is the other remaining concern that could come back to bite the Lions, who passed on a 55-yard field goal on their only attempt Sunday. These are the kicks that most other playoff teams would confidently attempt in hypothetical indoor conditions, and these are the missed points that can make the difference in postseason games.

But let’s give Patterson credit for drilling the game-winner against the Chargers. That’s why the Lions brought him back from the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, and why they had no real kicker competition this summer.

Patterson is among the most accurate players in football at kicking from 45 yards. He’s had 28 points on 28 extra points this year and 12 of 13 on short-handed kicks, with his only miss being a Week 8 honk against Las Vegas from 26 yards out.

Patterson scored the game-winning goal for the Jaguars in the playoffs last winter and was consistent in a pressure situation Sunday. The vast majority of NFL players will make the same field goal, but it’s not a lock.

The Lions stand alone with the second-best record in the NFC right now because the 49ers’ Jake Moody (a Northville and Michigan grad) missed a 41-yard field goal at the end of a 19-17 Week 6 loss to the Cleveland Browns, after they took him in the third round in the draft. April.

Picture a playoff and weirdness brewing

The Lions (7-2) look like a 12-5 or 13-4 team, which should be enough to win the division and possibly earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. But the Vikings wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Minnesota won an NFL-best fifth straight game on Sunday — and its second straight with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback — to keep the Heat over the Lions in the NFC North.

The Vikings (6-4) play two of the worst teams in the league, the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears, the next two weeks, and must get All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson back before a tough stretch run that includes road trips to Cincinnati and Las Vegas and two games with the Lions.

While some may fear that Minnesota’s comeback could cost the Lions (7-2) a home playoff berth, I think a competitive race is good for a Lions team that could advance into January. The best way to ensure you play your best football when it counts is to stay consistent with meaningful games every week.

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One oddity to watch: The Lions and Vikings play twice in the final three weeks of the regular season, and the way the playoff seedings stand now, they’ll meet in the first round of the playoffs. This will be three games in four weeks, including back-to-back battles in Week 18 and the wild card round.

I’m not sure how the Lions will handle their end-of-season matchups with the Vikings if this scenario plays out, but the good news is they have a potential NFL Coach of the Year to figure it out.

Contact Dave Birkett at follow him @devperkit.

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