Detroit says they’ll run the ball. We’re believers.
“We’ll always be about running the football. We want to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical football team. We want to be able to exert our will on our opponents.”
– Lions offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell
Fantasy owners have, rightly, become suspicious of public declarations from coaches. They’re notorious liars and blowhards. But this one rings true for three reasons.
No. 1 Reason It Might Not Be B.S.
Matt Patricia grew up in the Patriots system, including acting as the team’s defensive coordinator from 2012-2017. During his tenure the Patriots ran the ball the sixth-most times, despite having the GOAT at quarterback. Obviously, it worked out for the Patriots.
In 2017, the year before Patricia arrived, the Lions ran 363 times, second-fewest. Last year, Patricia jumped that number to 404 attempts, vaulting the Lions from 31st to 18th in rushing plays.
No. 2 Reason It Might Not Be B.S.
As offensive coordinator in Minnesota and Seattle, Darrell Bevell ran the ball a lot. In his five years in Minnesota, he ran the 7th-most often. In seven years in Seattle, he ran the ball the 3rd-most times. Combined across both teams, during his 12 years as an offensive coordinator, Bevell ran the ball the 2nd-most times.
As an offensive coordinator, Bevell averages 473 runs per year, a whopping 30 per game. He was out of the league last year, but those 30 runs would have been the 4th-most attempts, and 69 more than Detroit ran last year.
Matt Patricia could have hired anyone as his offensive coordinator. He chose to hire the man who will implement his run-first plan.
Also, I’m in Minnesota, and in his dealings with the media, Bevell was a straight shooter. Bland, but truthful. I’m inclined to believe him.
No. 3 Reason It Might Not Be B.S.
It’s May. In my experience, the farther from the season, the more truth you get from coaches. When I’m at the NFL Combine in February, coaches speak with a candor you rarely hear. By the time training camp in August rolls around, those same coaches are back to being tight-lipped cliché machines. In May, we’re probably getting a decent dose of honesty.
What Does This Mean For The Detroit Runners?
For the first time in years, it doesn’t feel like a mishmash of committee runners in Detroit. Anyone with two functional eyeballs knows that Kerryon Johnson is the team’s best runner, by a lot. He averaged a whopping 5.4 yards per carry.
Clearly, Johnson should see an uptick in usage. Last year he only averaged 12 attempts and three receptions per game. He didn’t post a single 20-carry game. If Bevell is going to call another 30 rushes per game, Johnson should be above 20 often. Even at 18 carries a game, at 5.4 yards per carry, he’s looking at 100-yard rushing games.
The depth chart after Johnson is pretty thin with only CJ Anderson—an intriguing late-round flier, and the soon-to-be-cut LeGarrette Blount. Anderson should get enough work to be a bye week helper and has dramatic upside if Johnson suffers an injury.
Theo Riddick doesn’t post a threat, except as a third-and-long pass-catcher.
What Does This Mean For The Detroit Passing Game?
There’s zero good news for Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones.
Last year, Matt Patricia had already started orienting toward the run. Stafford was asked to throw the fewest passes of his career, and as a result, set a career low in yardage and his second-fewest touchdowns.
It won’t get better this year. As the offensive coordinator for Seattle, Bevell was dead last in passing plays.
The volume simply won’t be there for the Lions passing game to produce consistent numbers. Golladay and Jones were already up-and-down fantasy producers, and that’s likely to be exacerbated.