Lions' offense is a work in progress, but the signs are pointing up

DETROIT -- It’s by no means complete. It's not even close to where the Detroit Lions would like it to be. But after two weeks running Darrell Bevell’s offense, the signs are there for what it could be in the future.

There’s less predictability than in prior years under former coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. The play design, many times, has been innovative. It has worked to the strengths of players and opened up things for bigger plays -- evidenced by the throw fake to the left on Matthew Stafford’s screen pass to the right that turned into a 36-yard Kerryon Johnson touchdown during Sunday’s 13-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

It’s something the Lions are still growing into – something Bevell is growing into too, despite 13 seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator. But so far the Lions can at least feel confident in what they have been doing and building toward.

“I go into every game really comfortable,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “I know what he’s going to call, and now I’m just learning more and more when he’s going to call it. That just comes with experience, but I’ve had a lot of fun playing in this system for two games.

“Got a lot to clean up, can obviously play better, but I’m enjoying it.”

He should, because the Lions have been more prolific throwing the ball than they were a season ago under Cooter. Last year, Detroit averaged 223.5 passing yards per game. This year, through two games, Stafford is throwing for 303 yards per game and the offense appears to have more rhythm as a result.

Some is due to the playcalls. Some is due to the players coming up with bigger plays at crucial times, like the Lions’ conversion of a 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter Sunday on a pass from Stafford to Marvin Jones Jr. The next play, Stafford hit Kenny Golladay for a game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass on a post route.

The post was one of the many explosive plays the Lions have had over the first two weeks of the season and a sign the offense is willing to take chances. Last year, the Lions had 54 plays of 20 yards or more on offense. This year, through two games, they already have 11.

“The flow, it does flow,” Jones said. “Even if you see that we get in a little lull, which all offenses do, there’s no panic just because there’s so much confidence that we have in what we’re doing.”

The Lions have bought into Bevell’s system and they’ve seen it work. When running back J.D. McKissic -- one of two players on the Lions who have played in a Bevell system before -- went back to watch Arizona film after last week, he said, “Everything was there. I’m not kidding you. Everything was there.” When the Lions made mistakes, it was often more the result of player error than a poor decision or call.

While everything is looking smoother, there’s no doubt Detroit can get better in some areas, especially facing teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys that have put up big offensive numbers. The Lions didn’t run the ball particularly well Sunday, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry, but through two games, Detroit is averaging 105 yards a game rushing, slightly up from last year’s season-long average of 103.8 yards per game.

So no, it isn’t perfect yet. Not close. But the Lions have something to build on offensively, which bodes well for Detroit as the season goes along and as everyone within the offense grows more comfortable with one another.

“We’re always trying to learn each other better, what I like, what he likes. You know, what our players are best at,” Stafford said. “At the end, I’m just the guy back there trying to get the ball to our playmakers and let those guys do their thing, and he’s drawing up great plays to try and get them open too.

“So it’s been a good experience so far.”