Three season ago, two of the hot head coaching candidates were (then) San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and (then) New Orleans Saints tight end coach Dan Campbell. Each man would receive a head coaching position, with the former landing with the New York Jets and the latter landing with the Detroit Lions.
Since then, the Lions have risen to prominence, winning their first playoff game in three decades. By comparison, the Jets have gone the other way, now holding the longest active playoff drought in major American sports.
Watching the Lions wild card round playoff game, I couldn’t help but think of Saleh at the very end. Specifically, I thought of him on this play.
While the play itself isn’t much to write home about, the context is. At this point in the game, the Los Angeles Rams have no timeouts left and the two-minute warning has already occurred, meaning that they cannot stop the clock. The Lions hold a one point lead and are in second and long.
There is an argument to made here that the Lions would benefit most by simply running the ball twice. In fact, this is the traditional way of handling this situation because the Lions can take 40 seconds off the clock per run play, leaving the Rams about 30 seconds to drive from wherever the punt landed (likely from the 20-yard line or worse for the Rams). That’s a low probability success rate without any time outs for the Rams, but it still leaves the door open for them to win the game on a field goal, which could come following a play as simple as a corner tripping on a good route by a wideout.
Dan Campbell didn’t run the ball. Dan Campbell went for the win right then and there via a pass that led to a first down. That allowed the Lions to run out the clock. The Rams never got the ball back.
Had that pass been incomplete it would have been third and long and the clock would have stopped. This means the Rams would have been one more stop from having about a minute to get the yardage needed for the win if the Lions ran the ball or completed a pass short of the first down on what would have been third and long. Alternatively, the Rams would a have had a minute and 30 seconds had the Lions thrown another incomplete pass. I think the Rams would have found a way to win it in either scenario if the Lions had punted following the second down incompletion with the way that Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford was playing at that point in the game.
All that said, Campbell rolled the dice and it worked. Success on the play would have won the game. Failure very well may have lost it. That’s how I’d describe “all gas, no break.” The idea of allowing calculated aggression to allow you to say, “Failure here would be costly but we’re not going to fail.” And this isn’t a one-off decision for Campbell, but rather the culmination of years of decisions as shown by his team setting the NFL record for 4th down attempts (and conversions) in his very first season as the Lions head coach.
As Jets fans know, “all gas, no break” is Saleh’s mantra for the New York Jets. While he says it, he doesn’t really seem to embody it on game day. Just look at this decision to choose to punt at a time where a punt all but ended the game.
NYJ decided to punt to BUF from the BUF 45* on 4th & 1* with 10:59 remaining in the 2nd while losing 0 to 10.— Surrender Index 90 (@surrender_idx90) November 14, 2021
With a Surrender Index of 19.36, this punt ranks at the 98th percentile of cowardly punts of the 2021 season, and the 96th percentile of all punts since 1999.
*NYJ committed a (likely intentional) delay of game penalty, moving the play from 4th & 1 at the BUF 45 to 4th & 6 at the 50.— Surrender Index 90 (@surrender_idx90) November 14, 2021
If this penalty was in fact unintentional, the Surrender Index would be 4.67, ranking at the 86th percentile of the 2021 season.
Personally, I have no doubt that the Jets would have opted to run the ball and punt had the New York Jets been in the same situation that the Lions were on Sunday. With the Jets defense, it probably works out just fine. But that doesn’t make it an “all gas, no break” approach.
The Jets have a ton of problems that go beyond a mantra, but the good teams (like the Lions) have an identity and, right now, I would argue the Jets have an identity problem. They say they’re one thing, but they do another. At some point those competing messages lead to confusion and self-inflicted confusion never benefits a team. For Saleh, it’s time for a change in mentality or a change in the message. One of them has to change, unless Saleh wants to be relieved of his duties.