Throughout the past season, it always seemed like Matt Patricia wanted a ball-control offense for his Detroit Lions. Rarely did the Lions play with a ton of tempo. He often made it clear that he believed running the ball effectively was the best way to the postseason and beyond.
In an era of high-octane passing in the NFL, Detroit wants to work with the run and with balance. The Lions were able to hire the man who coordinated one of the better rushing attacks of the past decade in the NFL to do it.
Darrell Bevell isn’t a wow-factor name. He isn't a young, on-the-rise coach from the Sean McVay or Andy Reid lineages. That might not excite a lot of fans. But that’s OK. Bevell fits exactly what Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn want in an offensive coordinator. While the results remain to be seen, that is what makes this a smart hire by the Lions.
Patricia was asked in his season-ending news conference last month whether his offense needed modification. He answered by praising the idea of the run game.
“Watch through the playoffs, most of the teams that win in the playoffs are teams that run the ball and win the big games in the end. I have been on good sides and bad sides of both of that,” Patricia said. “And teams that can run the ball, stop the run, control the game toward the end of the season is really, I think, the teams that will have the most chance to win. The passing game is certainly dynamic, the spread offenses, the things that we have to see and deal with, the RPO systems, the different developments in college that come up and infiltrate into our league are certainly things that we all have to deal with.
“But there is a fundamental philosophy that I do believe with the run game and stopping the run and covering kicks. That is true, and so far, that has held true so far through the course of the season.”
The Lions needed to bring in a coordinator who could mesh well with Patricia’s vision for the offense. If they didn’t, no matter who it was, there would've been very little chance of the hiring being successful. Having a coordinator who knows how to build a successful running game, which Seattle had year after year with Bevell running the offense, was critical.
Patricia and Bevell are somewhat linked, too, by the play Bevell is most known for (even if it wasn’t entirely his fault): The final meaningful play of Super Bowl XLIX, on which Malcolm Butler intercepted a Russell Wilson pass in the end zone after the Seahawks didn't call for a Marshawn Lynch run. Patricia was running that defense. Bevell was running that offense.
Bevell never really lived down that playcall in Seattle -- a call for which he wasn’t entirely to blame, as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll later said -- and it diminished what he did with the Seahawks during his seven seasons.
Bevell knows how to call a run game. He knows how to adapt a game plan. He created success wherever he coached in the NFL. In three of his five seasons in Minnesota, the Vikings were .500 or better, and they won NFC North titles in 2008 and 2009.
Bevell had a winning record with Seattle every season except his first in 2011. In four of those seasons, his offense ranked in the top 10 in points scored behind a rushing attack with Lynch and then Thomas Rawls. Bevell’s offensive efficiency rating (DVOA) was in the top 10 from 2012 until 2015, according to Football Outsiders.
That shows that he knows how to run an offense that will do the most it can with the drives it has, and considering how DVOA works, with a weighted offense in which games later in the season matter more, that indicates an effective offense more often than not when Bevell was the team’s coordinator. It also demonstrates offensive consistency. Consistency, more than anything else at this point, is something the franchise is searching for on every level.
The other way Bevell fits what Patricia wants is through pace -- or lack of it. Patricia, through the way his team operated last season, clearly wanted to move at a pace of play slower than what the Lions had been used to in the past. In those years when Bevell’s Seattle offenses were efficient, it came at a slow burn.
Bevell and the Seahawks were in the bottom 10 in seconds per play the majority of the years Seattle was at the top of the league, according to Football Outsiders. The strategy was simple: run a methodical, efficient, run-heavy offense that took time off the clock, and build a defense that is one of the better units in the league.
Since Patricia has been in Detroit, that is what the Lions have seemingly tried to do. Now, he has the coordinator to attempt to pull it off.