Friday, November 11, 2011

Is the worst "player" on Seattle's offense Darrell Bevell?

When it comes to NFL playcallers, perception rarely matches reality. Fans are not the only ones bothered by offensive coordinators' tendencies and proclivities; perhaps no other coaching position is as prone to staff turnover as offensive signal caller. Mr. Jeremy Bates to the white courtesy phone...

From the well-publicized snafus in Washington DC when Zorn had his playcalling duties stripped and was effectively both neutered, spayed, and publicly pantsed as a coach, to the well-publicized annual changing of the offensive coordinator that many blame for Alex Smith's woes, to the still-strong hatred of Greg Knapp in all places Seahawk, second-guessing signal callers is a wonderful pastime seemingly enjoyed by all - except of course, signal callers. Mike Holmgren often was praised for his play calling genius, but 3rd and long draw plays still make Seattle fans far and wide reflexively wince while invoking the Walrus' name in vain. Being a play caller ain't no joke.

Offensively, Seattle is struggling. The 'Hawks have wasted two consecutive defensive performances worthy of a win, and Seattle played well enough defensively against the Cowboys to win that game as well. It felt early on that Seattle was dodging bullets Matrix style, but the run defense cleaned up its act well enough to make sure the 'Boys didn't scamper away. 23 points shouldn't feel insurmountable, but it did. There is simply no confidence in an offense that has no trouble racking yards, but seemingly goes cross-eyed nearly every time it nears the opponents 30. The popular theory has been the offensive line, but they had an above average performance on Sunday, and it didn't change much.

Does any, or even most, of the failure hang on Darrell Bevell?

First, credit where credit is due. Bevell has the offense getting out of the huddle much better than early in the season, with Jackson getting between 10 and 15 seconds behind center to look over the defensive set. Jackson, on the other hand, has been rather slow to get to the snap after he gets his linemen set. Part of me wonders if that is contributing to the sheer number of procedure calls.

This kind of shocked me. I was under the impression that Jackson was up against the play clock a bit more that this. Funny how early season perceptions tend to hang on long after they have been corrected.

However, don't call FTD to have your roses sent to Bevell's office just yet. Some of Seattle's most publicized errors rest squarely on him and his passion for multitudes of personnel packages.

Rewind your DVR to just before halftime in the Bengals game. Facing 3rd and goal with 19 seconds left, Seattle has a clock-stopping sideline play that gained most of the yards, leaving 14 seconds and a full play clock for the 4th down play call. The camera pans to Carroll 5 seconds after the player goes out of bounds, likely while the ball is being set so the play clock can be wound, and Carroll distinctly says "go for it" into his com. Chaos ensues as the personnel package going onto the field is lacking the running back desired. The couple of personnel shots of the sideline show Carroll calm as he signals a time out, while his offensive coordinator is doing what can only be called "freaking out." By the time Carroll signals the official for a time out, the quarterback-to-offensive-coordinator communication has been silent for about 10 seconds, making Bevell's panic-driven screaming pointless. The commentators blame Lynch for not being on the field, but the entire team looks confused. The conclusion that Bevell wasn't ready with a play is pretty much inescapable, regardless of the fact that Carroll took the blame after the game for the situation.

Fast forward to the Cowboys game. Late in the 3rd quarter, after a run for 2 yards on 2nd and 9, 5:59 and running is on the clock. The cameras show Lynch going back to the huddle after the play, as he should. Then Fox does their thing, which is show closeups of Dallas players and Rob Ryan, and when they go back to the field at 5:30 Lynch is hustling back onto the field late, and Seattle has to burn a timeout yet again. More personnel and package discombobulation. It had the look and feel of coaching indecision once again. Lynch, get off the field! Wait a sec, get back out there!

Add to that the 3:10 of clock burned to run the final 6 plays on Seattle's lone touchdown drive, when there was only 9 minutes left in the game, and trailing by three scores, and the pace at which Bevell chooses to run his offense is curious to say the least. It has become clear to most that Tarvaris Jackson plays better in a no huddle offense, and yet Seattle ran less than ten plays from the no huddle offense against Dallas. Why? When your quarterback clearly is better with that style, why not embrace it? The reluctance to use a playing style that clearly empowered a player is difficult to comprehend. (EDIT: The lack of no-huddle has since been attributed to Seattle's adjustments against DeMarcus Ware that game.)

When you add those things to the sheer number of personnel packages Bevell is running with one of the most inexperienced teams in recent memory, in a lockout shortened season no less, and it begins to smell like an offensive coordinator making his mark more than an offensive coordinator trying to get the most out of his players. The no-huddle offense is built around not changing your personnel while keeping the defense from doing the same, which seems to fly in the face of what Bevell likes to do, which is have a package for every situation. I would hate to think that a coordinator who expects players to learn his playbook would refuse to learn and use their strengths in the best way possible.

Will Bevell turn it around? Is it even his fault, or is it because Seattle is depending on Cable to call run plays, as has been reported by some? And perhaps most important of all, will Bevell follow Bates as a one season OC in Seattle?

Stay tuned...


  1. Excellent post. The analysis on formation packages is spot on but not heard much on elsewhere. And great journalistic work to display some clear examples.

    Play-calling by itself is overanalyzed and overcriticized. In the modern NFL, the players are so damn good that it is rare a play catches anyone with pants down, especially good defenses. So it depends more upon execution than anything else. I do think that the great play callers break from a tendency once in a while at key points in a game or in a season, but more often than not such moments are set up by maddening 3rd and 6 fullback draws to Mack Strong. (To use the Holmy example)

  2. I'm not going to judge Bevell just yet, I mean TJax isn't exactly the most consistent QB in the league and Bevell can't depend on him to make plays and a consistent basis.... I don't know how many times I've seen Jackson miss wide open receivers down field and not throw them the ball instead he throws it to guys that are double covered or in a scrum of defenders,.. and the lack of a running game is another issue all together, It's hard to call a game when the defense knows you can't run the ball... The only problem I have with Bevell at this point is his lack of aggressiveness in the redzone, when we do get in the redzone he seems afraid of throwing the the ball into the endzone, I mean we have two wideouts that are 6'4" and taller and Zach Miller as well, now, I'm not sure if Pete Carroll is telling him to stay conservative in the redzone or not but this is something that needs to be fixed....

  3. Yep to the above. More passes in red zone, please
    and some tendency breaks in the play calling.
    Are you listening Senor Bevell?

  4. The offense Carroll wishes to build is already on full display at UW. Its a "system" offense, and in that sense, I don't think Darrell Bevell's playcalling really impacts a game much more than Gil Haskell's did when Mike Holmgren was here (though they both feel irrelevant in very different ways).

    In most cases, Bevell calls a play, but its actually almost completely on the quarterback's shoulders how the play turns out. For example, the infamous 4th down failure at halftime in the Bengals game, that was actually a dual-play. Depending on what Jackson saw, he could have passed or handed off on the same play call from Bevell.

    Even when that's not the case, very few of Seattle's passes are scripted, meaning that its up to Jackson's decision making capability to choose whether to run for it or which player he should target.

    This isn't to say that Bevell has done a great job or that Seattle couldn't do better, but he strikes me as a "faceless" OC who doesn't have as much of an impact on the game as his predecessor (Jeremy Bates) did. Which in all honesty, is probably what got Bevell hired in the first place.

  5. Unlike Knapp, I don't think Bevell has issues with giving away too much with tendencies. He does run more from some pretty specific packages, but it is the sheer number of packages that is the problem for me.

    TJ appears to have some limits placed on him by Bevell as well. Most of his audibles were to the run against Dallas, but when Seattle was in goal line situations Dallas had no fear of single coverage, knowing TJ would not audible to a fade pattern.

    I asked the question about Bevell being the worst part of the offense, but in no way do I think he is. My honest opinion is that Seattle has the offensive players, even with the youthful line, but the distributor (TJ) is fundamentally flawed at reading specific areas of the field, and when that field is compressed in the red zone, those flaws are magnified further. he is a much better passer to the endzone from the 40 yard line than the 20, IMO. Bevell is doing OK, and if he tries to run it as much the rest of the season as he did against the 'Boys, he will please his boss enough to keep a job. But dear god, Bevell, you don't need a sub package for every down and distance.