Lions OC Darrell Bevell Plans On 'Stretching' Stafford In 2019

The quarterback's coming off a down season.

Will Burchfield
February 12, 2019 - 5:26 pm

© Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

One of the first phone calls Darrell Bevell made after being hired as offensive coordinator of the Lions was, naturally, to his quarterback. 

In a way, Bevell felt like he already knew Matthew Stafford, having coached in the NFC North in the past. But there is still much for the two to learn about each other, and possibly even more for Stafford to learn about himself.

Bevell plans to push the veteran quarterback in new directions at age 31. 

"In my conversations with him, we want to make sure that we’re doing the things that he’s been successful at, but also talked with him about stretching him a little bit. Maybe putting him in positions that he hasn’t been before just to be able to push our offense to new heights," Bevell said Monday night at an event for Lions season ticket holders.

His discussion with Stafford could only have gone so deep. Coaches aren't allowed to talk scheme with players at this point in the offseason. But it's clear Bevell has some new things in store for a quarterback who's still searching for the first playoff win of his career. 

It's fair to wonder if "stretching" Stafford will ultimately mean reining him in.

In Bevell's 12 seasons as an offensive coordinator, he's generally built around the run. The Lions' offense with Stafford has always been built around the pass -- until last season, when Matt Patricia made a point of establishing a ground game in Detroit once and for all. 

Before the offense was depleted by injury, starting with the loss of Kerryon Johnson in Week 8, the results were encouraging. Stafford's best stretch of play of the season -- and that of the team -- came from Weeks 3-7 when he compiled a passer rating of 117.9. The common denominator? The QB wasn't being asked to do a whole lot. 

Over those four games, the Lions ran it more than they threw it. They controlled the clock on the ground and went to the air when they needed to. Stafford, who averaged about 10 fewer attempts per game than he has for his career, topped 300 yards passing just once. He also threw eight touchdowns to just one interception. The Lions went 3-1. 

It was smart, deliberate football, the kind that's often characterized Bevell's offenses. 

"It’s no secret that where I’ve been, we've been able to run the football and we’ve been able to run it at a high level," he said Monday night. 

What this means for the Lions offense remains to be seen. Bevell said he won't really know how things will look until he's got a better grip on his personnel. He's only just begun watching film on the pieces in place and several more will be added in the months ahead.

What it means for Stafford is a bit of a question mark, too. It's not like Bevell hasn't helped quarterbacks flourish in the past. Russell Wilson led the league in passing touchdowns in 2017 when Bevell was OC of the Seahawks. A 40-year-old Brett Favre ranked second in 2009 when Bevell was OC of the Vikings.

But here's a clue: Neither Wilson in 2017 nor Favre in 2009 was near the top of the charts in yards or attempts. They were efficient through the air more than they were prolific.

Maybe that's where Bevell wants to stretch Stafford. No one doubts the man's sheer production, but he's generally racked up his numbers by slinging the football at will. (He ranks second in the NFL in pass attempts since 2011.) And it seems he's most often in a groove when the situation calls for one throw after another, the risk be damned. 

Think about all those fourth-quarter comebacks. After a particularly rousing win in 2016, Stafford said of his last-minute touchdown pass, “I cut it loose and kind of thought to myself, ‘We’re either going to win the game or lose the game on this one.'"

Bevell likely won't be so inclined to leave things to chance. He'll want the production from Stafford without the devil-may-care approach, the important completions without the rash of attempts. Maybe most of all, he'll want his quarterback to find a rhythm without always being the lead drummer.

That'd be a new position for Stafford, indeed. Maybe he's prepared to discover something about himself in the 11th season of his career.