It’s always fun to see the mad scramble for information when a new coach is hired. Detroit Lions fans—myself very much included—did a mad dash to the internet to find stats, highlights, testimonials and any kind of analysis on offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to see what the team had in their new offensive mind.
But rather than dig up what fellow players or fans said—as both come with inherent bias—why not take the man at his word?
I went through Bevell’s 10 years as offensive coordinator and pulled quotes from the man himself, looking for any signs of his offensive tenants or philosophy. What I found was clear growth and adaptation in his strategy.
Remember, Bevell started out as a passing mind. As a former quarterback himself, his entrance into the league as a coach was focused around the passing game. For the first 10 years of his coaching career, he had jobs that ranged from passing game coordinator to quarterbacks coach to wide receivers coach. His first foray into the NFL was working alongside Brett Favre, a relationship that blossomed in Green Bay, but eventually soured in Minnesota.
“If you’re going into a game, and you’re audibling more than five times in a game, then we didn’t do a very good job with the game plan. We’ve done that very few times in a season.”
Obviously, the league has changed a lot since then, and Bevell has changed a lot with it. Working initially under Brad Childress, Bevell had the label of a being a West Coast Offense kind of guy. He took on that identity, but praised the strategy’s versatility.
“The great thing about the West Coast offense is that it is adaptable. I know in my time in Green Bay as a quarterback coach, one year we were tops in the league at rushing and the very next season we were tops in the league at throwing the ball.”
Now compare that to this quote from general manager Bob Quinn when talking about his goals for the offense:
“We want to be diverse. We’re not going to sit there and be in four wide receivers, shotgun every play and throw it 45 times. That’s not good for anybody. On the other hand, we’re not going to be three tight ends and run the ball 40 times.”
With the Vikings, Bevell’s offense had a lot of that balance. Brett Favre had one of his best seasons reunited with Bevell in Minnesota, but Adrian Peterson also emerged as one of the best running backs in the league.
When Bevell moved to Seattle, running the ball became the primary focus, but passing the ball remained an integral part.
“We want to be a run-first team. We added a second running back in the draft [Robert Turbin], so we still end up having that size, that big strong runner, once Marshawn Lynch comes out of the game. But, I think the important part of the passing game is that it needs to be explosive.”
I heard that. I heard your eyebrows raise at that last sentence. Explosive passing game. It’s something the Lions were missing last year, and part of the reason they were occasionally successful with Matthew Stafford in years past.
Now for the money-shot from that same interview (emphasis added by me):
”That’s what we want to do, it’s what we want to be. It gives us opportunities to throw it, not just the little, you know, West-Coast Offense style where you’re going five or six yards, we want to be able to get big chunks. If you’re going to drive the length of the field, you’re going to have to do that, and I think that’s something that we’re still working on.”
There’s where you really see the growth with Bevell. He’s actually insulting the kind of offense he used to run in Minnesota. With the personnel he had in Seattle—a bruising running back and a quarterback with a beautiful deep ball—he helped create an offense that dominated the NFL for years.
It’s no surprise that a year later (2013), Bevell talked about how the personnel dictates his strategy:
“We are always trying to tailor the offense to the strengths of those players, so the different types of players we have will enable us to do different things, the subtle changes you are talking about, just to try to accentuate and get the ball to our best players.”
If the Lions plan on recreating some of the magic made in Seattle, they made need to find themselves a premier tight end. Bevell stressed the importance of having a piece like that in his offense back in 2014.
“It’s huge—to be able to have a mismatch on linebackers, and to be able to try and find that—the defense has to decide, ‘ok, is the matchup with the linebacker the correct one to use or do we need to start putting safeties on them?’ Then that does different things for us—then we have to look at the matchups and sometimes it uncovers some disguises and all those kinds of things that can open up when you have a factor that’s there in the middle.”
By 2016, Bevell had completely assumed the identity of being a running offense. Planning for the 2016 playoffs, Bevell made it no secret that his plan of attack was to simply outrush their opponents. He wasn’t blatantly open about his plans:
“We’re a running team, running philosophy, so we know that to hand the ball to the running back 25, 30 times is exactly how we want to play the game. You can still throw the ball in that, you just have to protect the ball, be smart with it and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Of course, Bevell’s career eventually took a turn for the worse. Although head coach Pete Carroll would eventually try to take responsibility for the botched play call that ultimately lost the Seahawks the Super Bowl in 2015, Bevell ultimately called the play.
However, in this excellent breakdown of the call—in which they interviewed multiple quarterbacks, all of which said they wouldn’t run against that defensive front—Bevell shows no remorse for his decision.
“That play we called will always be there to drive me. I wouldn’t change it, I think it was the right thing.
Bevell has had an interesting career trajectory, and after taking a year off of football, it will be fascinating to see how he has changed watching the game at home for a season.