The Detroit Lions have a bunch of new faces on their 2018 coaching staff, so let’s get to know them individually.
One of the first things the Lions did this offseason—aside from firing head coach Jim Caldwell—was letting go of offensive line coach Ron Prince. It was a clear sign that Bob Quinn was no longer putting up with having one of the worst rushing games in the league. Filling Prince’s shoes was clearly a big priority, and on February 7, the Lions hired Jeff Davidson to take on that challenge.
Let’s get to know Jeff Davidson a little better:
- 1991-92: 2-year OL starter with the Broncos (retired due to injury)
- 1995: Saints volunteer assistant
- 1996: Saints offensive assistant
- 1997: Patriots TE coach
- 1998-2001: Patriots assistant OL coach
- 2002-04: Patriots TE/assistant OL coach
- 2005: Browns OL coach
- 2006: Browns assistant head coach/offensive coordinator
- 2007-10: Panthers offensive coordinator
- 2011-15: Vikings OL coach
- 2016: Chargers OL coach
- 2017: Broncos OL coach
Davidson’s career can, for our intent and purposes, be split into three eras: the Patriots, the Panthers and the Vikings. He saw success in all three of those phases. Let’s break it down.
Season before Davidson became OL coach: Patriots 24th in rushing DVOA, 23rd in YPC
Rushing stats during seasons with Davidson as OL coach:
- 1998: 29th in DVOA, 26th in YPC
- 1999: 28th in DVOA, 23rd in YPC
- 2000: 27th in DVOA, 26th in YPC
- 2001: 17th in DVOA, 11th in YPC
It took a while for Davidson to get his footing in the NFL. He, alongside offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, were tasked with turning around one of the worst running games in the league. It took them four years, but they finally did it in Davidson’s final season with the Patriots—and ironically, just his second year working alongside then player personnel assistant Bob Quinn.
It was a moderate success story for Davidson, but it’s one that earned him his next gig with the Cleveland Browns, alongside former Patriots coach Romeo Crennel. Davidson was quickly promoted to offensive coordinator in his second year, after the previous OC was fired midseason. He wasn’t able to turn things around in 2006, but he found himself with a bunch of job opportunities at the end of the season. He chose the offensive coordinator job for the Panthers.
Season before Davidson became OC: 20th in DVOA, 23rd in YPC
- 2007: 21st in DVOA, 24th in YPC
- 2008: 2nd in DVOA, 10th in YPC
- 2009: 10th in DVOA, 10th in YPC
- 2010: 32nd in DVOA, 23rd in YPC
It took Davidson one year, but ultimately turned the Panthers offense into a rushing machine. For 2008 and 2009, the Panthers were one of the most feared running attacks, led by the two-headed monster that was DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. In 2008, Davidson was responsible for turning around the 27th-scoring offense in 2006 to the seventh-best in the NFL. As a result, the Panthers won the division with an impressive 12-4 record.
However, the wheels quickly came off in 2010. Ravished by injuries to quarterback Matt Moore, running back DeAngelo Williams and offensive tackle Jeff Otah, the Panthers’ offense crashed and burned. The team finished 2-14 and the Panthers essentially blew everything up.
Season before Davidson became OL coach: 8th in DVOA, 8th in YPC
- 2011: 5th in DVOA, 2nd in YPC
- 2012: 6th in DVOA, 1st in YPC
- 2013: 8th in DVOA, 2nd in YPC
- 2014: 4th in DVOA, 10th in YPC
- 2015: 8th in DVOA, 3rd in YPC
Davidson found a new home in Minnesota and was put into a pretty good situation. He was gift-wrapped and handed Adrian Peterson in his prime, and took him to a whole new level. In Davidson’s second season, he helped Peterson enjoy his best career year to date, rushing for 2097 yards and an unbelievable 6.0 yards per carry.
But perhaps Davidson’s biggest accomplishment was developing a scheme that could work without Peterson. The All-Pro running back was suspended for all but one game in 2014, and the Vikings’ running game did not skip a beat. Davidson somehow managed to create a top-10 rushing offense with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon as his two leading backs.
The success continued into 2015, but Davidson was fired after the season by Mike Zimmer when the team struggled with its pass protection. Minnesota allowed 51 sacks in 2014 (fifth-most) and 45 in 2015 (ninth).
Overall, however, Davidson’s time with the Vikings was a wild success. No team rushed for more yards per carry during Davidson’s five-year stint than the Vikings. He had turned that team into a rushing juggernaut, and the team has struggled to meet those lofty goals since he left. The team rushed for just 3.2 yards per carry in 2016 and 3.9 in 2017.
Two one-year stints
After being let go from the Vikings, Davidson was still in high demand. His history of turning around running games was well-documented at this point and that made him valuable to rushing-deficient teams. The Chargers were the first team to come calling:
Season before Davidson became OL coach: 31st in DVOA, 32nd in YPC
- 2016: 24th in DVOA, 26th in YPC
It wasn’t a huge improvement for the Chargers once Davidson came aboard, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. Davidson helped turn Melvin Gordon from a rookie disappointment into a real threat. After rushing for just 641 yards, 3.5 YPC and zero touchdowns in 2015, Gordon jumped to 997 rushing yards, 3.9 YPC and 10 touchdowns—despite starting two fewer games in 2016.
But the Chargers went just 5-11, leading the team to fire their head coach Mike McCoy. When McCoy was shortly thereafter hired as the Broncos offensive coordinator, he took Davidson with him.
Season before Davidson became OL coach: 29th in DVOA, 28th in YPC
- 2017: 23rd in DVOA, 14th in YPC
Again, Davidson took over a bad situation and significantly improved it. He wasn’t able to make this an elite running game in one year, but he took the Broncos out of the basement and essentially turned them into an average running game.
But, overall, the offense struggled. The Broncos scored just 18.1 points per game (27th), which led to McCoy getting fired in the middle of the season. Denver held onto Davidson until the end of the 2017 year, then sent him packing along with several other coaching assistants.
Most recently, Davidson has employed a power-blocking scheme, which is opposed to the zone-blocking scheme Detroit has deployed recently. This is the exact situation Davidson was thrown into last year in Denver. From Scout.com:
The most notable part of this hire is Davidson’s penchant for a power-blocking scheme up front, rather than the zone scheme that the Broncos employed for the last couple of seasons under Kubiak.
Power blocking essentially means more man-to-man blocking and it also typically requires a fullback. So, yes, we may be seeing the #ReturnOfTheFullback in 2018 after Jim Caldwell and Jim Bob Cooter essentially killed the position over the past two years.
On the surface, this hire looks like one of the Lions’ better additions to the coaching staff in 2018. It was clear whatever the Lions had been doing for the past four years wasn’t working, and things were a disaster in 2017.
While Davidson doesn’t exactly have a great pedigree in pass protection, a good running game has seemed to follow him wherever he goes. He saw major success in Minnesota and Carolina, but it’s actually his past two years that should give Lions fans the most hope.
Davidson’s past two jobs were both just one-year stints, but they show how valuable he can be. He took two teams that had bottom-of-the-barrel running games, and immediately bumped them up out of the bottom quarter of the league. He may have gotten fired from both jobs, but he was caught in the middle of drastic coaching changes both years. Davidson was tied to Mike McCoy in both jobs, so when McCoy was let go, Davidson logically followed.
But in Detroit, Davidson will not have to answer for McCoy’s failures. He’ll be able to take on the running game on his own terms, while Jim Bob Cooter already has a pretty solid passing attack in place. If Davidson can recreate even his minor successes in San Diego and Denver, the Lions offense could take a big jump in 2018.