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Was Darrell Bevell to blame for Seahawks’ offensive woes?

Darrell Bevell took over as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator in 2011. (AP)

The Seahawks have parted ways with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after seven years. Coaching moves weren’t unexpected – especially after comments made by Pete Carroll in his final interview of the season with Brock and Salk – but fans shouldn’t hold out hope that the release of Bevell will solve the Seahawks’ struggle with inconsistency.

Calls for Bevell’s firing didn’t start with the disappointing end to Seattle’s 2017 campaign – the strongest wave of complaints can be traced back to a single decision: his ill-fated playcall near the end of Super Bowl XLIX. With a chance to secure a historic Super Bowl win, the offense called for a second down slant at the goal line, but the pass from quarterback Russell Wilson was intercepted in the end zone.

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The heartbreaking loss kept Bevell on the hot seat for several seasons afterward, despite the fact that Seattle had one of its most productive seasons on offense the following year. But back-to-back years plagued by struggles in the run game, punctuated this season by a failure to secure a postseason berth for the first time since 2011, turned out to be the final nail for Seattle’s longtime coordinator.

Earlier this month, wide receiver Doug Baldwin, one of the Seahawks’ most prominent voices on offense, cautioned critics against placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Bevell.

“It’s not play-calling,” Baldwin told a group of reporters during locker cleanout on Jan 1. “It’s not play-calling. We go into a game knowing what the defense is going to give us, the situations we’re going to be in. We don’t execute as a team. Offensively, that’s what we’ve seen countless time and time again that we do not execute the way we should. And that’s on us as players. You guys can blame Bev all you want to, but the truth of the matter us, Bev is not the problem.”

Baldwin is right in pointing out the risks of attempting to diagnose play-calling issues as an outside observer. It’s worth noting that struggles in the offense are difficult to pinpoint, and offensive line coach Tom Cable is primarily in charge of the run game, one of Seattle’s biggest current deficits. Diagnosing issues in the passing game is just as risky: Are first-half struggles a result of poor play-calling, a smart defensive play, or the result of the quarterback holding on to the ball too long?

It can go without saying, but personnel changes affect both phases of the offense: the team saw a significant dip in rushing production following the loss of Marshawn Lynch and an injury to Thomas Rawls during his rookie season.

With Bevell as its offensive coordinator, Seattle secured a playoff berth through five-consecutive seasons. The Seahawks made it to back-to-back Super Bowls in 2013 and 2014, earning the franchise its first ever Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Here’s a look at Seattle’s offensive production during Bevell’s tenure:

Passing yards per game Total passing yards League Rank Rushing yards per game Total rushing yards League Rank
2011 (9-7) 215.3 3444 28 109.8 1756 21
2012 (11-5) 202.1 3234 17 161.2 2579 3
2013 (13-3) 219.3 3508 17 136.8 2188 4
2014 (12-4) 218.3 3492 9 172.6 2762 1
2015 (10-6) 253.8 4061 4 141.8 2268 3
2016 (10-6) 276.4 4422 12 99.4 1591 25
2017 (9-7) 248.7 3979 15 101.8 1629 23

So, is the departure from Bevell an issue of scapegoating or accountability?

Sheil Kapadia, at the time ESPN’s Seahawks reporter, questioned the critique of Bevell in March:

“The Seahawks’ offense was not good last year, finishing 17th in efficiency, its lowest ranking since Russell Wilson became the quarterback. But Bevell is far down the list when it comes to reasons why… Pete Carroll doesn’t just hand the offense over to Bevell and say, ‘Do whatever you want.’ He has specific guidelines. He wants balance. Turnovers drive him nuts. Third down has to be a strength. Meanwhile, Tom Cable handles the offensive line and the run game. Essentially, Carroll has asked Bevell to design an offense that limits risk while still being explosive. Bevell has done that.”

Gee Scott of 710 ESPN Seattle agreed with that assessment Wednesday morning, hours after news broke of Bevell’s release.

“Scapegoating,” Scott told Brock Huard and Mike Salk while joining Brock and Salk. “When it is pointed to Bev in this situation, it’s a situation where they feel like if there’s going to (be a) change, make change all the way. This is the text that I got today: ‘Bevell is the offensive coordinator. Tom Cable runs the show.'”

Ultimately, the decision may be the first of many moves for Seattle. And for many critics, beginning those cuts at the top makes the most sense.

“This was inevitable,” Huard said. “Unfortunately, the trend line since 2015 has gone one way, and when you are the play-caller and you are in charge of that offense, the slow starts, the lack of consistent productivity, no run game, the buck stops with the coordinator. And that’s why Bevell was let go.”