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Taking a look at Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s 2020 play-calling tendencies

An analytical deep dive with the help of Sharp Football Stats.

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

We don’t yet know exactly what the the new look Jacksonville Jaguars will look like schematically on offense under head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. In fact, the offense is adapting and changing from what we’ve seen from the Jaguars on offense in the past, and maybe somewhat different from what Bevell himself has done as a play-caller. Bevell’s willingness to carry out Meyer’s vision of the offense is actually a big reason why he landed the job on Meyer’s staff:

“His ability to adapt to my vision of the offense, which is little different maybe than he’s done in the past,” Meyer said one of the best qualities he saw in Bevell. “The flexibility and not rigidness was very important to me because we do have the first pick in the draft and there is a vision I have about the style of offense. I’m certainly not going to call plays, that’s his responsibility, but I have a real clear vision about what I want the offense to look like and he was great.”

While we should certainly expect to see some new things with Jacksonville’s offense in 2021, there are still some tendencies or patterns we can look at from Bevell’s time with the Detroit Lions last season as offensive coordinator and interim head coach/play-caller, and even his time with the Seattle Seahawks prior to that.

First and foremost, using Sharp Football Stats as a detailed guide, here are a few things that stood out from Bevell as a play-caller in 2020.

Personnel Groupings:

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Similar to the rest of the league, the Lions used heavy 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) under Bevell in 2020. Detroit ran 11 personnel 66 percent of the time (653 total plays), which was actually lower than the amount the Jaguars ran 11 personnel under Jay Gruden in 2020 (73 percent). But, out of 991 total plays, the Lions lined up in 11 personnel 653 times last season, so that was easily Bevell’s preferred grouping. In 2019, Bevell’s first year in Detroit, 11 personnel was also the most-used grouping for the Lions, at a 61 percent clip (621 plays).

Some of the other more frequent personnel groupings the Lions also used this past season with Bevell running the show include 12 personnel (16 percent of the time, 158 plays), 21 personnel (seven percent, 71 plays), 22 personnel (five percent, 48 plays) and 13 personnel (two percent, 24 plays).

Snap Rates — Under-center versus Shotgun

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The Lions had an even 60 percent (shotgun) to 40 percent (under-center) ratio under Bevell. The 40 percent under-center-rate was actually five percent higher than the NFL average (35 percent), which of course also means Detroit’s shotgun percentage was about five percent under the league average, but Bevell still obviously favored the quarterbacks taking snaps a few yards behind the center as opposed to directly behind.

Detroit would run the ball 68 percent of the time from formations where the quarterback lined up under-center, a run rate that ranked just 20th in the NFL. So, Bevell wasn’t afraid to throw from under-center looks, as the Lions did so 32 percent of the time in such situations, which ranked 13th in the NFL.

While Bevell would mix up the run versus pass play calls under-center, it was pretty obvious what the Lions were doing out of the shotgun. The team’s pass rate of 82 percent out of the shotgun was the sixth highest in the league (the Jaguars actually ranked fifth at 84 percent in 2020). Detroit only ran the ball on 18 percent of its shotgun snaps, which ranked toward the bottom of the league at 27th.

On first down, Detroit actually had an even 50-50 split of shotgun versus under-center formations. On second down, shotgun looks became more frequent at a 59 percent clip (41 percent for under-center). On third down, as you may have guessed, it was almost all shotgun plays with a 90 percent to 10 percent split. On fourth down, under-center formations shot up to 31 percent (69 percent for shotgun) — a likely reason for this could be because if the team was going for it on fourth down, it was likely a fourth-short situation more often than not where the Lions looked to use a power run game to pick up a couple of yards (I am just guessing here, as the numbers are not in front of me).

Another interesting note when looking at the shotgun versus under-center snap rates is that Bevell would actually line his offense up more often under-center than in the shotgun in the first quarter of games. This is the first time the data favors plays under-center, and is visualized in the chart below. Jacksonville also slightly favored under-center looks in the first quarter in 2020, with a 51 percent to 49 percent split. The shotgun rate then shoots up to 65 percent (35 percent under-center) for the Lions in the second quarter, but goes back to close to even in the third quarter (51 percent shotgun plays versus 49 percent under-center plays). In the fourth quarter, unsurprisingly, shotgun formations dominate at a 76 percent clip (24 percent under-center), and Detroit threw the ball 90 percent of the time from the shotgun in the fourth quarter.

Shotgun versus under-center snap percentage in just the first quarter.
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Overall Pass Rate versus Run Rate

In the above section, we looked at plays run under-center versus plays run from the shotgun, and looked at run and pass rates out of each set. The below chart illustrates the overall pass rate versus run rate, and “success rates.”

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“Success rates” are defined by Sharp Football Stats as the following: “A play is successful when it gains at least 40 percent of yards-to-go on first down, 60 percent of yards-to-go on second down and 100 percent of yards-to-go on third or fourth down.”

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Lions had a pass rate of about 63 percent, which ranked fourth in the NFL (note the Jaguars had the highest pass rate in the league in 2020, at 66 percent, which likely had a lot to do with often playing from behind). The Lions averaged 7.6 yards per attempt on its passing plays, which was higher than the league average of 7.2 yards per attempt, and much higher than the what Jaguars averaged (6.4). However, Detroit’s 47 percent success rate on passing plays was slightly lower than the league average of 48 percent, but very close. Jacksonville had a 45 percent success rate on passing plays.

In the ground game, the Lions had a run rate of 37 percent under Bevell in 2020. Detroit averaged 4.1 yards per carry, which was much lower than both the league average (4.4 yards per carry) and what the Jaguars accomplished (4.5 yards per carry). Similar to passing success rate, the running success rate was ever so slightly below league average for the Lions at 50 percent (average was 51 percent).

Tendencies based on down and distance

Darrell Bevell’s overall play-calling tendencies based on situation
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Looking at play-calling from an overall perspective, and then breaking it down into various situations based on down and distance is interesting. On first-down-and-long (which is more often than not was probably a standard first-and-10 situation), the lions passed the ball 56 percent of the time, ran the ball 44 percent of the time and had a 51 percent success rate overall. On second-and-long (eight-to-10 yards to go), the pass rate shoots up to 65 percent, but the success rate goes down to 40 percent. On third-and-long, as probably expected, the Lions passed the ball 98 percent of the time in this scenario, but had only a 34 percent success rate.

The Lions were most successful on first-and-short (one-to-three yards to go, likely because of a penalty, or multiple) situations at a 91 percent clip, and first-and-medium situations (71 percent) but that only encompasses 25 total plays between the two scenarios. What stands out perhaps is that the Lions were able to find relative success on second-and short (56 plays, 63 percent), third-and-short (49 plays, 67 percent) and fourth-and-short (11 plays, 73 percent) under Bevell.

What to expect from Jacksonville’s offense in 2021?

Honestly, your guess is as good as mine on what exactly Meyer’s “vision” is for the offense and how Bevell plans to carry that out. But I have some ideas.

While perhaps it wasn’t seen as much in Detroit under Bevell, given the quarterback for the Lions was Matthew Stafford and not Russell Wilson, Bevell also had plenty of success incorporating zone read/read option plays with the Seattle Seahawks. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is widely expected to be Jacksonville’s pick with the first overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, and given Lawrence’s ability to make just about every throw, and his running prowess, it would not be surprising to see these elements come into play for the Jaguars this coming season, if Lawrence is indeed the starting quarterback. The play-action passing/run-pass option passing game could also be a strength of Jacksonville’s offense under Meyer, Bevell and Lawrence.

According to Pro Football Reference, the Lions had 28 passing attempts on run-pass option plays in 2020 under Bevell, which ranked toward the middle of the pack in the league. For what it’s worth, the Arizona Cardinals led the NFL with 124 attempts out of RPOs. I would expect that number to be in between those two numbers with Lawrence taking the snaps, but certainly much higher than 28. If you’re curious, the Jaguars only had 20 such passing attempts. Detroit also threw it 113 times off of play-action this past season. The attempts number only ranks 22nd in the NFL, but the 1,057 yards it generated ranked 13th in the league. The Jaguars only had 95 passing attempts off of play-action, which generated just 738 yards, so expect both of those numbers to climb under Bevell.

Based on Bevell’s comments at his introductory press conference, it does sound like he plans to incorporate some of what he did in Seattle, and some of the college concepts, into Jacksonville’s offense in 2021.

“Some of the things that we started to do with Russell (Wilson) can carry over from the college game to our game,” Bevell said. “I’m going to be able to help Coach Meyer in that. Coach Meyer’s going to be able to push me in some other directions as well. I think it’s a great partnership with myself and the staff that we have and Coach Meyer to be able to bring whatever we’re going to do as the Jacksonville Jaguars to life.”