Lions revamping offense with focus on running game

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Darrell Bevell is open about it: He likes to run. He wants to run. Since he was a college quarterback at run-first Wisconsin, it's always been a part of his identity in football, first as a player and then as a coach.

That's what made him attractive to Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia when he hired Bevell as offensive coordinator in January. It forms a large portion of his offensive philosophy, and he believes working through the run can create so much. So in a league that is pass-heavy and going with a more explosive, big-play approach with strong-armed quarterbacks, Bevell is OK with doing something different.

"It's my background, all the way back to even when I was at Wisconsin we were a run-first team, had great success at Minnesota running the football," Bevell said. "... Did the same thing in Seattle. Built it the right way. It is different for the opponent. If you're playing the Rams and the Chiefs and those teams week in and week out, they are defending the same thing.

"All of a sudden you play us, there's going to be different things to defend and they have to decide how they want to do it. They are going to have to personnel it different, so I think it gives you a little bit of an edge that way."

The Lions have been building their roster around this philosophy, too. They have focused on rebuilding the offensive line since general manager Bob Quinn took over in 2016. They spent last season revamping the run game, drafting Kerryon Johnson and, this offseason, signing C.J. Anderson.

And they've done it while also building around quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose skill set would seem to fit more of a downfield offense than what the Lions might run based on Bevell's history -- although the longtime coordinator did say they want to run an "explosive" passing game. Some of that could be due to Stafford's arm strength, still considered among the best in the NFL.

When asked if it was Johnson first and Stafford second -- essentially calling it a run-first offense -- Bevell said, "Sure, that's fine, whatever they want to believe right now." But in reality, Bevell is still learning exactly what he has offensively. He knows his veteran quantities -- from Stafford to Johnson to receivers Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay -- but there are a lot of options he's still getting a handle on.

And those players could end up changing some of what the Lions do. But Bevell's history has been pretty clear.

"No. 1 is protecting the football. It's going to be all about the ball," Bevell said. "We have to make sure that we protect it. It's going to be the No. 1 factor in winning and losing football games. I would say that's a huge part of this. We're always going to be about running the football. We want to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical football team. Want to be able to exert our will on our opponents and then we want to be able to be explosive in the passing game.

"When we throw the ball, we want to be able to throw it down the field and get big plays. Between big plays and not turning it over, you got a really good chance to win."

The Lions, at least to this point, might have the parts for it -- and much of that starts with Stafford. Bevell has worked with veterans and rookies, with strong-armed passers and quarterbacks who can do as much running the ball as throwing it. And the majority of what Bevell did at his last stop, in Seattle, would seem to need to be altered for what he might do with the personnel in Detroit.

Bevell said there are things he's asking Stafford to do that the quarterback hasn't had to before, despite being in multiple styles of offense. And there will be things Bevell will do to cater to Stafford's strengths, using his strong arm and play-action capability to leverage defenses. Bevell said he knows Stafford likes working out of shotgun, something he did often under former coordinators Jim Bob Cooter, Joe Lombardi and Scott Linehan.

But things will be different. Bevell, not surprisingly in today's super-secretive NFL, would give little away.

"I think we'll just leave that out there," Bevell said. "And let you see if it looks any different."