Football Outsiders published its Aggressiveness Index results yesterday, and came back with a very weird result. Jim Caldwell went for a shitload of fourth downs.
Not counting catch-up situations, Caldwell went for it more often on fourth down than any other head coach in the NFL. The Lions went for it 14 times in 107 possible fourth-down situations that qualify for the Aggressiveness Index, or 13.1 percent. Marc Trestman and his Chicago Bears were second in both categories, going for it a dozen times for 12.8 percent of opportunities.
In the second half of the year, the normally comatose Caldwell was going for it from no-man's land (between the 40s) and farther in, and on fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-2 and fourth-and-10, and running fake punts in the first quarter. It seems completely out of character—and honestly, I had no idea this was going on despite paying nominal attention to Lions games as a Vikings fan. It didn't hold up, though. You probably remember how.
On fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 46 in the Divisional round, Caldwell and the Lions were up 20-17 and decided to punt. Probably a bad decision; certainly a bad outcome:
That's your Lions season: spontaneous evolution meets tragic regression, at just the right time.
And just for your own personal use, since you're probably wondering, here's the explanation of what the Aggressiveness Index actually is:
Aggressiveness Index numbers center around 1.0 and generally describe how much more (or less) likely each coach is to go for it on fourth down compared to his peers; for example, a coach with 1.20 AI is roughly 20 percent more likely to go for it than an average coach in equivalent situations. The Aggressiveness Index excludes obvious catch-up situations: third quarter, trailing by 15 or more points; fourth quarter, trailing by nine or more points; and in the last five minutes of the game, trailing by any amount. AI was expanded two years ago to include plays when the offense is on its own side of the field, excluding those obvious catch-up situations. A slightly newer version of AI we are using now also adjusts to judge coaches on all fourth-and-short opportunities, even when the play doesn't actually record as fourth-and-short because of one of those bogus delay of game penalties that moves the punter back five yards.
The overall leader on the AI was Sean Payton, whose Saints had a low number of qualifying opportunities (81 to Caldwell's 107) but had the fifth-highest overall AI rating since 1989.
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