The Ballad of Darrell Bevell

Should a person be defined by one moment? Does one single instance become who a person is, or must that moment be weighed against all else the person accomplishes or does not accomplish, especially if the one instance happens to result in extreme negativity to his or her own people? And then, when one passes judgment against the person and that moment, what should be the result of that? Condemnation? Acceptance? Forgiveness? Silence? And how should the person react to being judged? How, in fact, do both the one being judged and the ones judging move forward when a decision based on such tangible evidence is met with a future that is inherently unknown?  And with this we come to the specific players of this column: Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell and the fans and management of the team.

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It is an indisputable fact, at least in the confines of this column today, that Darrell Bevell made the worst call in the history of the Known World with 20 seconds left in last season’s Super Bowl. It was a play call so awful that 710 ESPN Seattle’s excellent morning show, Brock and Salk with Brock Huard and Mike Salk, so far refuses to replay Seahawks radio play-by-play announcer Steve Raible’s live description of it. The decision Bevell made was to throw a pass from the 1 yard line instead of hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch. The result of the play was an interception by the New England Patriots, and that led to the Patriots running out the last 20 seconds of the game and winning Super Bowl XLIX (or 49, for all those non-Romans reading this). The Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, and Head Coach, Pete Carroll, have each said the blame for the result of the play should be placed on them, but they are just being good sports. Bevell on the other hand seemed to initially blame the intended receiver, Ricardo Lockette, and then the receiving group as a whole. Simply, Bevell, as is in his job description, called the play and so must be held most accountable for what happened. The question is how must the team hold him accountable going forward?

Over the last couple of years, Bevell has drawn interest from teams about vacant coaching positions. Since Bevell was installed as the Seahawks offensive coordinator in 2011, he has seen various defensive coaches leave for head coaching positions in the NFL. The Seahawks have been hugely successful during his tenure as OC, winning one Super Bowl and nearly winning another. His offense ranked ninth in the NFL in 2012, eighth in 2013 and ninth again in 2014. Typically, the offense has ranked at the top or near the top in rushing in those years, but in the bottom fourth in passing. The Seahawks are fine with this, however, as the team has a run-first and play great defense philosophy. The idea is that that the defense will win championships and the offense puts the defense in position to do that. The problem comes when the offense makes an atrocious error that causes the team to lose games, or, worse, the coaching staff makes a decision that the offense run a play they should not and the team loses. Bevell’s decision in the Super Bowl cost the team the Super Bowl. Bevell should not be fired based on one play, but the organization should let him know that his offense has to improve this year or that this will be his last season with the team.

The reason the offense should improve this year is that they have better players on offense than in any season since Bevell took over as coordinator. Bevell has had those top ten ranks on offense without a number one receiver. Golden Tate may have been a very good secondary receiver with the Detroit Lions last year after leaving Seattle, but he became the number one receiver with the Seahawks before that because there was no one else good enough to take that role. Last season, the Seahawks receivers were, at best, mediocre. The proof of this was that in the Super Bowl the team’s best target by far was Chris Matthews. Matthews caught four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the game. Prior to the Super Bowl, Matthews had not caught a pass in the NFL in his career. This wasn’t because the Patriots defensive backs were entirely focused on top end Seahawks receivers because there are not any. Angry Doug Baldwin is a nice slot receiver, but not much else. Rookie Paul Richardson was beginning to play better late in the season, but then he was injured and missed the Super Bowl. Ricardo Lockette, whom Bevell decided to target on the Seahawks final Super Bowl play, would not play for most NFL teams. That Bevell decided to have Lockette be the intended receiver of the final play is damning. For 2015, however, the Seahawks traded for New Orleans Saints All-Pro Tight End Jimmy Graham and drafted Kansas State Wide Receiver Tyler Lockett. Those two, along with a healthy Richardson, should help Russell Wilson quite a bit. In Graham, Wilson finally has a player worthy of being the focus of the passing game. If the offensive line does not totally implode and Lynch stays healthy (the Seahawks do have backup running backs in Christine Michael and Robert Turbin capable of being productive if Lynch were to, unfortunately, be injured, however), this should be the most talented roster of offensive personnel the Seahawks have had in some time.

The other issue with Bevell has been his inconsistent, and sometimes simply bad, play calling. Many fans complain Lynch is underused at times. Bevell, though, does seem to have a plan with Lynch. The idea last offseason was that the Seahawks would let Turbin and Michael have more carries and that Lynch’s load would be heavier later in the season and in the playoffs, and this worked for the most part. Lynch had only slightly fewer carries in 2014 than in previous seasons, but still seemed fresh in the playoffs. Basically, fewer carries during the regular season and more in the playoffs has been Bevell’s philosophy towards Lynch in the time they have shared in Seattle. In 2013, Lynch averaged 19 carries a game in the regular season, but his average went up to 22 in the playoffs. In 2014, Lynch averaged 17.5 in the regular season (seriously, you should have seen that half-carry; it was amazing), and his average increased to 21 carries per game in the playoffs. Bevell was consistent in how he used Lynch. The issue has become play calling later in games and how his scheme breaks down so easily. These facts become hidden by the fact that Russell Wilson has an unnatural ability to turn a broken play into a big gain. Without Wilson as quarterback, the Seahawks offense would be too predictable. Wilson allows the offense to keep drives alive by running and then exhibiting his talent for making people miss. Part of this is by Bevell’s design and sometimes not. How exposed would Bevell’s play calling become if Wilson were to miss time with injury? The Seahawks have been fortunate to have both Wilson and Lynch remain healthy over the last few years. If Wilson in particular were to be out a few games, Bevell’s inconsistencies might be too much for the Seahawks to overcome to make it back to the playoffs.

The answer to the first paragraph is a person should not be judged by one bad moment, but by the whole of their life or work. In Darrell Bevell’s case, his one bad moment is very bad, but the whole of his work is still in question. What led to the final terrible play was a series of not great play calls. The play that got the Seahawks to the 1 yard line on their final series was an awful play call – a post pattern where Wide Receiver Jermaine Kearse fell down between two Patriots defensive backs and managed, somehow, to catch the ball. Why throw long instead of trying to pick up a first down? This happened a few times on the final drive. However, that was last season. If this season the Seahawks offense does not improve its consistency and efficiency, the offensive talent that the team acquired this offseason should be directed by a different coordinator next year. Hopefully, though, Seahawks fans will have other – happier – thoughts on their minds in May of next year than on whether the offensive coordinator should be dismissed. Perhaps those thoughts will be on how the Seahawks could win three Super Bowls in four seasons and how the words “forgiveness” and “acceptance” are part of Seahawks’ fans lexicon when referring to Bevell.