Allen Park – Not to be overly dramatic, but the future of the Detroit Lions’ three most important pieces all hinge on the success of new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Hired Wednesday to replace Jim Bob Cooter, Bevell will be charged with raising a lifeless offense from the ashes, and doing so with coach Matt Patricia’s vision of toughness, balance and ball control in mind.
If the hire is a success, and the offensive improvements match those of a defense that appears poised to come into its own in 2018, the Lions could be on the fast track back to contending for division titles and postseason berths.
If Bevell fails to meet the challenge, it could spell the end for the Detroit tenures of Patricia, general manager Bob Quinn and quarterback Matthew Stafford, necessitating another full rebuild in what has a six-decade stretch filled with them.
No pressure, Darrell.
Plenty of fans and analysts will be offering instant evaluations of the hire, but those will be guesswork based on loose comparisons. Sure, many of us, at one point or another, have noted Stafford has a similar skill set to Hall of Famer Brett Favre. Maybe less often in recent years, but even so, how much does Bevell’s seven years of experience working with Favre really play into how he’ll design his offense in Detroit? Even in the last decade, the game has changed quite a bit.
And there’s no question Patricia loves the success Bevell has had running the ball, including a dominant three-year stretch while calling plays in Seattle. But Kerryon Johnson isn’t the bell cow Marshawn Lynch was for those Seahawk teams.
The Lions made it clear with their handling of Johnson last season they weren’t going to overwork their young star, and he still got hurt and missed the final five games. Bevell’s hire confirms what we already suspected – adding another piece to the backfield will be a priority for the team this offseason.
What we do know is the age-old football adage, that defense wins championships, has been placed on hold and might be on an extended vacation.
Look at the remaining four teams in the postseason – the Chiefs, Rams, Saints and Patriots. They happen to be the league’s top four scoring offenses. Teams that can light up the scoreboard are dominating. And even though Bevell had the benefit of some outstanding defenses, all three of the teams he’s coached that made it to at least the conference championship had top-10 scoring offenses.
Patricia is old school, he wants to dictate the pace of the game by running the ball. He’s likely found a kindred spirit in that regard in Bevell. And as Patricia pointed out in his end-of-the-season remarks, that’s the kind of offense that wins in the postseason.
He’s been proven correct in recent weeks. Each of the four remaining teams are averaging at least 4.4 yards per carry. The Chiefs and Rams, in divisional wins, churned out 5.5 and 5.7 yards per touch, respectively.
But unless you can throw it, you’re not likely to survive long enough to see a conference championship. All four remaining contenders finished in the top 12 in passing yards, yards per pass attempt and passer rating.
If Bevell can’t get Stafford back on track after one of the worst years of the veteran quarterback’s career, all is lost.
In the modern NFL, the Lions can’t win consistently with Stafford throwing check down after check down, averaging fewer than 7 yards per attempt like he did in 2018. Bevell will have to craft a system that attacks downfield, similar to the way the Lions did in 2011 and 2016, utilizing Stafford’s arm strength and his weapons’ ability to get vertical. And Bevell also needs to complement that with a ground game, centered around Johnson, which Stafford lacked both those two years.
Bevell unquestionably needs more pieces than what’s currently in the cupboard. Another back, as noted, another receiver, and a tight end or two would be a strong starting point. That will be Quinn’s task.
Offense rules the day in the NFL. If you want to win Super Bowls, you better be able to run the ball and put up some serious points. Patricia has given Bevell the keys to the unit and he’ll either drive this organization forward or into a wall.
In two years, if the Lions haven't become legitimate contenders, it will be time to tear it all down and start over. Once again.