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Did Dan Campbell Outcoach Andy Reid in the Detroit Lions Week 1 Win Over the Kansas City Chiefs?

Right away, the 2023 NFL season hit us in the face with a surprise. In Week 1 the Detroit Lions – who finished the 2022 season 9-8 and missed the playoffs as the last team not to qualify – went into Arrowhead Stadium and knocked off the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs 21-20 on Thursday night. It was a big Week 1 victory for the Lions and head coach Dan Campbell.

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Of course, there were some extenuating circumstances. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was playing with a patchwork group of skill players around him. JuJu Smith-Schuster, the only Chiefs receiver to catch more than 50 passes last season, left as a free agent this spring to join the New England Patriots. The Chiefs didn’t do much to replace Smith-Schuster in the offseason, with the onus seeming to fall on seven-time All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce to make the difference. However, the 33-year-old hyperextended his knee in practice in the days leading up to the game, and was inactive.

While the lack of talent around Mahomes drew most of the attention from fans, coaching played a big role in the outcome of that game as well. Coming in, the Chiefs figured to have a major advantage in that department with Kansas City’s Andy Reid, one of the winningest coaches in NFL history, facing off against Detroit’s Dan Campbell, one of the more polarizing coaches in the game.

Both coaches made bold, at times questionable decisions at key moments in the game. On just the Lions’ second drive of the game, Campbell called for a fake punt run on 4th & 2 from his own 17-yard line, which was successful. He also took an uncharacteristically conservative approach with his offense on the field at the end of the first half, despite his underdog Lions trailing 14-7 with the Chiefs set to receive the second-half kickoff. Later in the game, he turned down a 4th & 1, accepting a penalty to create a 3rd & 17 for the Chiefs, which they converted.

As for Reid, he had some notable decisions as well. One was more big picture than an individual moment, as he and first-year offensive coordinator Matt Nagy called just 23 running plays to 39 passes, despite the lack of talent around Mahomes and the clearly apparent issues those players were having.

In the end though, it was a single decision by Reid and his staff that made the biggest impact on the game – not in a way that was favorable for Kansas City. Trailing 21-20 with 2:30 to go after a failed fourth-down attempt by the Lions, the Chiefs got the ball at their own 45-yard line. Needing just a field goal, it seemed like everything was set up for a Mahomes-led comeback.

However, that comeback never came. 21 seconds, three incompletions (including drops by Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney), and two penalties later, the Chiefs suddenly were faced with a 4th & 25.

With all three timeouts, and the offensive having allowed just 14 points in the game (the Lions also scored on a pick-six by rookie safety Brian Branch), it seemed like an easy choice to punt and ask the defense to get one more stop. Instead, Reid and Nagy kept what had been a stagnant offense on the field and had Mahomes heave the ball deep into what ended up being double coverage. The Lions got the ball back deep in Chiefs territory and were able to ice out the clock from there, rendering the 4th down call the Chiefs’ final offensive play of the night.

In the big picture, both coaches would probably admit this wasn’t one of their best games. Neither had a ‘good’ night. But within that, which coach was better? It certainly felt like Campbell, the third-year former NFL tight end with the old-school, smashmouth mentality, had the edge on Thursday night.

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