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Notes: Lions worked deep passes efficiently in 2019

Darrell Bevell’s offense took smart shots down the field last season

Los Angeles Chargers v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Many years ago, Lions fans got to learn that Matthew Stafford was quite good at throwing long passes. Unfortunately, there was a stretch of years where the passing game was dominated by short passes, and Stafford was considered a “dink and dunk champion.” Then came a change in 2019 when former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell pledged to restore the vertical element to the Lions offense.

That was last September when Bevell promised us deep passes. Though Matthew Stafford played just half a season, we can confidently grant Bevell a truth in advertising seal of approval:

Did the deep throws work? You bet they did. Recall from this past May, Stafford was a top quarterback by nearly every dimension in ESPN’s QBR system for 2019. Now, PFF’s fantasy account is talking about Stafford’s average depth of target, but were those broken plays or sandlot ball plays stretching the data? According to ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder, the answer is negative, and it was all by design:

That tweet means Detroit threw what Walder is calling “vertical” routes (includes post, go, corner, seam, deep fade) more often relative to the rest of the league than everybody but Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Seattle. What’s really interesting, though, is that the Lions (read: Stafford, for the most part but not always) were choosy about when they threw it deep.

According to Walder, the plays called by Bevell did not push the team up the list when the exercise was repeated simply for routes run and not actual targets. The only teams in the top 10 route usage relative to the rest of the league that qualified with “vertical” routes were Tampa Bay, Dallas, Seattle, Baltimore, and the team whose fanbase is in San Diego.

That means Tampa Bay targeted a lot of vertical routes but they also ran a lot more vertical routes than other teams. In Detroit’s case, they targeted vertical routes more often than other teams, but did not necessarily run a lot more of them than anybody else. They are playing opportunistically, and apparently getting set up with good looks to go deep. A big piece of that has got to be Darrell Bevell and quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan.

Now that the Lions are getting a healthy Matthew Stafford back, a healthy Marvin Hall back to blaze past everyone, a little more seasoning for T.J. Hockenson and one year in the system for everyone to get comfortable, good luck to all the deep safeties. Now, on to the rest of today’s Notes:

Some notable offenses that use a lot of motion: Ravens (1st in motion usage), 49ers (4th), Chiefs (5th), Rams (6th), and Cardinals (7th). Where were the Lions? Seventh from the bottom of the league (26th in motion usage) at a rounded-off five percent. So, maybe something Bevell could throw more often into the mix?

  • For those who are into self-flagellation, Jeff Risdon at Lions Wire has a splendid article identifying ten players who were highly regarded in the 2017 draft, selected after the team picked Jarrad Davis, and have already built impressive careers in the league.

  • Over at the Worldwide Leader (ESPN+ subscription required for this one unfortunately), ESPN writer Jeremy Fowler wrote up the results of a survey sent to “more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players” that asked each participant to identify their top 10 to 15 players at each position. Today’s reveal was for Wide Receivers; although Kenny Golladay did not make the list, he was an honorable mention that finished just outside the rankings.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.