The Detroit Lions surprised everyone on Wednesday afternoon, hiring former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell as their next play-caller. Bevell wasn’t really on anyone’s radar, seeing as he took the 2018 season off following his firing from the Seahawks in 2017. There has already been a wide range of emotions from the Lions fanbase regarding the hiring, so here are my quick thoughts.
If you were hoping for the Lions to take a chance on an up-and-comer, that’s not what you’re getting in Bevell. What he lacks in youth and excitement, he makes up for with a long history of experience—and success. He spent every year from 2006 to 2017 as an NFL offensive coordinator, which is no easy task for any NFL coach. He was let go from the Vikings after the team moved from head coach Brad Childress to Leslie Frazier.
After a couple seasons of a novice play-caller in Jim Bob Cooter, there’s some relief in knowing an experienced coach is on the way.
Get ready to run
Both with the Vikings and the Seahawks, Bevell liked to build his offense through the run. Here’s a look at the run DVOA rankings for all the teams he coordinated:
Vikings 2006: 22nd
Vikings 2007: 3rd
Vikings 2008: 21st
Vikings 2009: 23rd
Vikings 2010: 8th
Seahawks 2011: 14th
Seahawks 2012: 1st
Seahawks 2013: 7th
Seahawks 2014: 1st
Seahawks 2015: 3rd
Seahawks 2016: 22nd
Seahawks 2017: 23rd
Though there were clearly some down years—partially caused by poor personnel on the offensive line—it’s clear the Bevell was most successful when his running game was on. Of course, it’s important to point out that Bevell’s greatest successes were bolstered by some of the best running backs in modern history. Adrian Peterson is just as much responsible for the rushing turnaround in Minnesota as Bevell, and Marshawn Lynch was in his prime during the Seahawks’ best rushing seasons.
RB2 a high priority?
Kerryon Johnson had a hell of a rookie season, but he did little to quiet one of his biggest drawbacks: durability. Having Lynch and Peterson at his disposal before, will Bevell push for a more physical back to complement Johnson? Running back was always a need for this team in 2019, but I get the feeling it just got a little more important to this team.
There will still be some passing
Many are likely to overreact to this hiring, saying it isn’t keeping up with a changing game that is becoming more and more oriented towards a pass-heavy, spread attack. And while it’s true the Lions aren’t completely inheriting that trend, it’s not like Bevell is afraid to air it out.
With Brett Favre at his disposal in 2009, the Vikings finished eighth in passing yards, first in passing touchdowns and first in passer rating. Russell Wilson has become one of the most respected quarterbacks in the NFL thanks, in part, to Bevell’s offensive design. In 2015, they were they had the second-highest pass offense DVOA per Football Outsiders.
That being said, every team but two of Bevell’s offenses have ranked in the bottom half of the league in pass-to-run ratio. The two outliers: his first and last year as coordinator.
General manager Bob Quinn said he wants a balanced attack out of his new offensive coordinator.
“We want to be able to run the ball, we want to be able to use our quarterback because he has a ton of talent,” Quinn said. “So, we want to be diverse.”
But perhaps it was head coach Matt Patricia’s quote that was more telling about this hire.
“Teams that can run the ball, stop the run, control the game towards the end of the season are really, I think, the teams that will have the most chance to win.”
At least they went out-of-the-box
For the past few weeks, I had been pleading for the Lions to go out of their comfort zone for this hire. I wanted the Lions to at least look at someone that didn’t sprout from the Patriots tree or come from Matt Patricia’s Syracuse history.
It turns out there is a connection between Bevell and the Lions staff, but it’s relatively minor:
New #Lions OC Darrell Bevell crossed paths with Bob Quinn in 1998-99 at Connecticut. Bevell was WRs coach while Quinn was a grad assistant.— Paula Pasche (@paulapasche) January 16, 2019
Wait and see
This is the kind of hire that doesn’t get me thrilled, but doesn’t depress me much either. I’m not one to think that there is only one way to properly build an effective offense. People seem to think if you want to have success in the NFL, you have to go the way of the Chiefs or Rams. And while recent history suggests that’s a good way to go about things, fads come and go in the NFL.
For years, the Seahawks were an extremely impressive offense capable of moving the ball, scoring plenty of points, and staying on the field long enough to give their defense some rest. Just look at their overall offensive DVOA and points scored rankings during his reign:
Seahawks 2011: 22nd in DVOA, 23rd in points scored
Seahawks 2012: 4th in DVOA, 9th in points scored
Seahawks 2013: 7th in DVOA, t-8th in points scored
Seahawks 2014: 5th in DVOA, 10th in points scored
Seahawks 2015: 1st in DVOA, t-4th in points scored
Seahawks 2016: 16th in DVOA, 18th in points scored
Seahawks 2017: 14th in DVOA, 11th in points scored
This isn’t ancient history we’re talking about. This is modern day offensive success with an emphasis on running the ball. It’s still possible.
It may not be how I would’ve run the team, especially with a weapon like Matthew Stafford at my disposal, but I’m willing to keep an open mind here.