Slightly more than two weeks after Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter was fired, head coach Matt Patricia added former Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings playcaller Darrell Bevell as his replacement. The move cements Detroit’s desire to become more balanced on offense and immediately changes the complexion of a team that has far too long excessively relied on the arm of Matthew Stafford.
The recap of Bevell’s 2011-17 stint as the offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll shows a system built around a successful rushing attack that primarily featured Marshawn Lynch. The highlight was a 2013 Super Bowl victory during a year in which Bevell’s offense generated the fourth-most rushing yards at 136.8 per game.
Just as soon as Bevell began to gain national attention for orchestrating an offense that perfectly complemented a stifling defense, he was the scapegoat after calling a game-ending pass on the goal line in the 2014 Super Bowl. Rather than running the ball with Lynch, Bevell dialed up an inside pass that was intercepted to seal the Pats’ victory. Even still, Carroll stood by Bevell until the end of the 2017 season, when he was relieved of his duties. The core of Seattle’s offense had been decimated by injuries and turnover, resulting in a pass-first system.
Table: Darrell Bevell offensive rankings
Adrian Peterson was Bevell’s workhorse in the Twin Cities before inheriting Lynch. While in Minnesota as the OC, he was hamstrung by quarterback problems. The leading passers for the Vikes in that time were Brad Johnson, Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte until Brett Favre came in 2009 for a single successful year before falling apart. Brad Childress was fired in 2010, and Leslie Frazier took over full time in 2011. Bevell wasn’t retained and found his way to Seattle. A common theme continued: Questionable quarterback play and a stud running back. Bevell struggled through another year with Jackson once again his primary starting quarterback. Russell Wilson was drafted the next year and helped stabilize the offense.
Bevell’s teams averaged the ninth-most rushing attempts and 10th-most yards gained on the ground in his years as a coordinator. The highest spot in attempts was No. 1, and the low end being 21st. The passing game never produced more than the ninth-most attempts but finished with the fewest three times in 12 years. The name of Bevell’s aerial game is efficiency. Utilize the strong running game to create play-action passing success.
Table: Offensive balance (2011-17)
|Team||Year||Rush att||Pass att||Run%||Pass%|
Focus on 2013-15 … Wilson had a full season under his belt, Lynch was in his prime as Beast Mode, and the defense afforded the offense this formula. That is the target for the Lions. The first two comparable elements are also within reason — Stafford is established, and Kerryon Johnson is as promising as any back Detroit has fielded since Barry Sanders retired. Speaking of Mr. Sanders, the 1997 season was the last time Detroit matched Bevell-coached teams’ average of 132.4 rushing yards per game. None of this will be possible in Detroit without addressing the defense and a few spots on offense.
Impending free-agents on the offensive side include RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Luke Willson, WR T.J. Jones, RB Zach Zenner, WR Bruce Ellington and TE Levine Toilolo. None of these guys are key contributors. Improving the offensive line, at least the depth, is important.
Fantasy football takeaway
Stafford is coming off of his worst full season to date, although it is tough to pin it all on the veteran after his top receiver was traded, the No. 2 target was lost to injury, and No. 9’s offensive line allowed him to take a pounding. Most of Stafford’s fantasy utility has been due to the sheer volume, throwing at least 592 times in five straight seasons before toning it down to 565 in 2017 and a career low for a full season (555) in ’18. Favre threw 531 times in 2009. Wilson had not chucked it more than 553 times under Bevell. Long story short, Stafford must be more efficient, much like Wilson was in 2015 and ’17 with 34 TDs apiece, in order to regain fantasy relevance. The former No. 1 overall choice is no better than a low-end backup in 2019 drafts.
The interesting situation will be how much Detroit feeds Johnson. He’s a versatile back capable of contributing on all three downs, but durability may be an issue. RB Theo Riddick presumably returns for his pass-catching role. The system has relied heavily on one back for most of Bevell’s time as a playcaller, although we’ve seen spurts of utility from change-of-pace guys. Will Johnson be on the same level as Peterson or Lynch in their respective prime? Highly unlikely. Nevertheless, the offensive shift absolutely benefits the 2018 second-round pick. Treat him as an upside buy as an RB2 in upcoming drafts.
Kenny Golladay was thrust into the spotlight as the de facto No. 1 receiver after the trade of Golden Tate and the injury to Marvin Jones. The latter is slated to return in 2019 to pair with Golladay, but there’s considerable room for a third receiving option to gobble up the chain-moving work Tate dominated. Golladay is a worthwhile gamble for low-end WR1 production, provided he makes the leap with a full offseason as the primary option. Jones lives and dies by touchdown grabs, making his utility inconsistent and overall worth depressed. Barring any substantial changes in the pecking order, he’s a WR3 or flex, depending on the league size.
The tight end position wasn’t much of a factor for Bevell in Minnesota. We saw flashes from Visanthe Shiancoe, Jermaine Wiggins and Jim Kleinsasser. In Seattle, he had the luxury of Jimmy Graham. The Lions don’t even have a Wiggins or Kleinsasser, let alone a Graham. Notable free agents include Tyler Eifert and Jared Cook.
The move to Bevell’s style of offense could be a quick transition for the Lions, but personnel upgrades are mandatory at receiver and tight end. This move should have gamers feeling optimistic for Johnson in 2019. Bevell’s hiring looks brighter for the entire offense to improve in 2020 after said enhancements and a year of continuity are entered into the equation.