NFL

Super Bowl 2020: What to expect from Reid & Shanahan in battle of NFL's top play-callers

By Sports Desk February 01, 2020

When the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers square off in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, it will not just be a meeting of the league's most talented quarterback against its most complete team. It will also be a matchup of the two greatest offensive minds in the game today.

They are in different stages of career and their journeys to this point have been markedly different, but no other offensive coach in the league does creativity and innovation to the level of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and 49ers boss Kyle Shanahan.

Despite the strength of the Niners defense and the improvements made by that of the Chiefs down the stretch, you will find few in Miami willing to bet against a shootout at Hard Rock Stadium.

It's a 61-year-old veteran against the 40-year-old christened as a genius almost throughout the league, and their intelligence and incredible acumen are sure to help keep the scoreboard ticking in what many expect to be a classic Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid

A former assistant of Mike Holmgren with the Green Bay Packers, Reid was schooled in the West Coast offense that Holmgren was immersed in during his time working under the legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh. 

The West Coast is an offense that is built on the principle of getting the ball to the receivers in space from them to gain yardage after the catch. 

Reid has stuck to that tenet of the scheme, but the genius in his approach lies with how he has incorporated the deep pass. The West Coast system may be designed to put players in space, but the Chiefs, through drafting the likes of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, have added players so fast that they create their own space.

Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes attempted a deep pass of 20 yards or more at the ninth-highest rate in the NFL this season, despite missing the best part of 11 quarters with a knee injury, with the 2.4 yards of separation from the nearest defender his receivers averaged on those passes the second-highest amount in the league.

Such is Reid's faith in Mahomes' arm and the speed of his receivers, that one of the Chiefs' most frequent play-calls if four verticals – essentially just four receivers running straight down the field.

The raw pace the Chiefs have at their disposal allows Reid the luxury of stretching defenses deep, but he also uses their physical gifts to test opponents horizontally as well. Reid will frequently send his running back in motion to shift defenders over to a certain side of the field and make them respect the possibility of a short throw to that area, opening greater pockets of space downfield.

Respect for such motion is a result of the impact Hill has made on jet sweeps and reverses out of the backfield, the former fifth-round pick adept at ripping off significant gains through plays that are effectively an extension of the running game.

Further downfield, Reid also utilizes the speed of his wideouts with deep crossing patterns that give defenders, as Raiders safety Karl Joseph found out in Week 2, a difficult decision to make as to who to cover. The combination of the Chiefs' speed and Reid's play-calls so often puts defenses in a bind, which is something his opposite number Shanahan seemingly revels in finding new ways to do.

San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan

The only team that ranks above the Chiefs in average separation on deep passes is the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo's completion percentage of 58.1 on deep throws is the best in the league, above Mahomes in second (47.1).

San Francisco and Garoppolo's presence at the top of those respective lists will surprise many given their postseason successes over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers were built around a dominant running game.

But the fact the Niners are able to flourish on the ground and send it deep is testament to Shanahan, who creates huge holes for his troop of electric running backs with an outside zone scheme that is an extension of what his father Mike ran in Denver and Washington. Shanahan also does an excellent job of recognising a defense's weak link and relentlessly taking advantage of it to get his receivers open.

A master of misdirection and disguise, no coach in the NFL relies on motion and play-action more than Shanahan, and the results have been devastatingly impressive for a team that finished the regular season second in points per game with 29.9.

The two players that are most crucial to Shanahan's consistent success with deception are Kyle Juszczyk and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Juszczyk is the Niners' Swiss Army knife. Many balked at the $21millon contract the Niners gave the fullback in 2017, but he has more than proved his worth.

The Niners do not use him as strictly a traditional fullback, they deploy him as a tight end and as a slot receiver as well as in the backfield, and the fact he has the athleticism to block and catch passes from each of those spots makes it near-impossible to decipher what his responsibility on a given play.

Juszczyk was the lead blocker on Samuel's touchdown on a reverse in the 49ers' crucial Week 17 win at the Seattle Seahawks that clinched a bye and homefield advantage in the playoffs for San Francisco.

Samuel has slotted seamlessly into the offense, racking 802 receiving yards, but the threat of him as a runner out of the backfield has allowed Shanahan to add another dimension to his attack, forcing defenders to hesitate when he comes across the formation, as they did when he ended up being the lead blocker for one of four Raheem Mostert touchdowns in the NFC Championship game.

Stopping the Niners' diverse ground attack will be a primary focus of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo but, with Shanahan being such a savant of disguise and having the likes of Juszczyk and Samuel at his disposal, it is difficult how to see that goal can be achieved in what will be a points fest if he and Reid perform at their play-calling peak.

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  • Hit void! Man Utd, Tiger, Serena, the Detroit Lions and others who would like to wipe seasons from history Hit void! Man Utd, Tiger, Serena, the Detroit Lions and others who would like to wipe seasons from history

    Reports in the UK this week suggested there is growing support to void the current Premier League season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    Additionally, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin admitted the 2019-20 campaign might have to be scrubbed from the records, after Euro 2020 was moved back 12 months.

    Although the likes of runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool would understandably despair at such a prospect, there are other clubs enjoying seasons to forget who might enjoy the escape clause.

    With that in mind, we took a look back at the teams and individuals who might like to expunge an ignominious season or period of time from history.

     

    MANCHESTER UNITED 2013-14

    The seven years since Alex Ferguson's retirement have not exactly gone swimmingly for United, but that ill-fated first season remains the real low point. 

    David Moyes lasted just 10 months as Ferguson's replacement as the reigning Premier League champions finished seventh in 2013-14, suffering truly humiliating defeats to top two Manchester City and Liverpool along the way. A wretched 2-0 loss at Moyes' former club Everton proved the final straw.

    At least they won the Community Shield in August 2013. 

    NOVAK DJOKOVIC 2017

    When Novak Djokovic defeated familiar foe Andy Murray to win the 2016 French Open, the modern-day legend was in possession of all of tennis' grand slams. The question was, who can stop this man? Well, the answer was actually himself.

    A round-three exit at Wimbledon followed a month later and, although he reached the US Open final that year, a barren 2017 followed. Djokovic did not go beyond the quarters at any slam that year and reached just one final at the Italian Open, which he lost. Djokovic rediscovered the winning habit in slams at Wimbledon in 2018, beginning a run of five triumphs in the past seven at tennis' big events.

    DETROIT LIONS – 2008

    The Lions secured an unwanted place in history when they became the first NFL team in the 16-game season era to go 0-16. They went 7-9 in 2007 and were then undefeated in preaseason, meaning few would have thought a historically bad campaign was on the cards.

    Detroit started three QBs over the course of the campaign - Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper - all of whom struggled with form and injuries despite the presence of star receiver Calvin Johnson, but worst of all was their woeful defense, which gave up 517 points.

    Team president and CEO Matt Millen was fired after four weeks, while head coach Rod Marinelli was shown the door at the end of the season and has not led a team since.

    TIGER WOODS - 2014-2017

    Tiger Woods' standing as one the greatest, if not the greatest, golfer of all time is in no doubt. By the end of 2013, Woods was standing again atop the world rankings after winning five times during the year, earning the prestigious PGA Tour Player of the Year award. 

    It would take five years for Woods to win again as the American great endured a horrendous time with debilitating back injuries and loss of form. At one stage it looked as though he may have to retire and his world ranking had plummeted to a scarcely credible 1,199th in December 2017. But just a year ago Woods was back in major-winning form as, at the age of 43, he became Masters champion for a fifth time.

    BARCELONA 2002-03

    Years of drift since the 1999 LaLiga title came to a head in 2002-03, as Barcelona endured a miserable season that saw Louis van Gaal sacked as coach and led to the departure of president Joan Gaspart. 

    Barca ended up sixth in the league – their worst finish in 15 years – as the Real Madrid Galacticos ruled. They also exited the Copa del Rey in the first round and lost in the Champions League quarter-finals. 

    After that season, in came Joan Laporta as president, Frank Rijkaard as head coach, and a certain Brazilian called Ronaldinho. And things got a bit better. 

    ENGLAND – 2013-14 ASHES

    England made it three Ashes victories in a row with a 3-0 home triumph in 2013 – the first time they had enjoyed such a run of success against old enemies Australia since 1977-1981. However, a rejig of the international cricketing schedule meant a swift return Down Under. The Mitchell Johnson-inspired hosts exacted brutal vengeance on their way to a 5-0 whitewash as a great England team fell to pieces.

    Off-spinner Graeme Swann retired mid-series and Kevin Pietersen's tempestuous exit from the international stage was set in motion, while Andy Flower – the head coach he despised – stepped down. Of the XI that started the concluding 281-run loss in Sydney, Pietersen, Michael Carberry and debutants Scott Borthwick and Boyd Rankin would never play red ball cricket for England again.

    REAL MADRID 2008-09

    In Spanish football's great rivalry, Real Madrid or Barcelona doing well is only half the deal. Success is truly sweet if the other half of El Clasico's enduring grudge are having a tough time. Madrid won LaLiga in 2007-08, with Barca a distant fourth as the Rijkaard-Ronaldinho era disintegrated under the weight of its own excess.

    However, the tables flipped spectacularly next time around – Barca stormed to an unprecedented treble under rookie coach Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi leaped from exceptional talent to generational superstar as Madrid were walloped 6-2 by their sworn foes at the Santiago Bernabeu and a dynasty was born.

    Madrid finished a distant second, were thrashed 5-0 on aggregate by Liverpool in the Champions League last-16 and coach Juande Ramos followed predecessor Bernd Schuster out of the exit door.

    PAULA RADCLIFFE – 2004 OLYMPICS

    After setting a new world record in London in 2003 and having won the 2004 race in New York, Radcliffe was favourite for marathon gold at the 2004 Olympics. 

    However, after struggling badly to continue, Radcliffe withdrew 23 miles in and was taken for a medical check-up. She later competed in the 10,000 metres but again retired.  In a tearful appearance on British TV, Radcliffe refused to blame the heat and humidity in Athens and admitted she was "desperately trying to find a reason for what happened". 

    A year later, she was back winning and breaking the world record at the London marathon - despite a brief toilet break by the side of the road - before taking gold at the World Championships in Helsinki.

    GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS 2019-2020

    After a fifth straight NBA Finals appearance in 2019, things went rapidly downhill for the Golden State Warriors. All-Star duo Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins left in free agency, while 'Splash Brothers' Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have been out injured – the latter is yet to play this season. 

    The Warriors sit bottom of the Western Conference and have the worst overall record in the NBA at 15-50. An improved chance of getting the first pick in the 2020 draft is their only solace.

    MANNY PACQUIAO 2012

    After losing to Erik Morales in 2005, Manny Pacquiao went on sensational 15-fight winning streak that established him as an unprecedented seven-division world champion. The Morales loss was twice avenged via stoppage, with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto similarly dispatched. A mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr awaited, only for the wheels to fall off in 2012.

    Timothy Bradley halted Pacquiao's streak when he was – somewhat farcically – awarded a split-decision verdict over the Filipino great. Juan Manuel Marquez knew all about scorecard controversy from his previous three meetings with Pacquiao and duly took them out of the equation, chillingly leaving his rival face down and motionless on the Las Vegas canvas that December. The Mayweather bout had to wait until 2015, but that is one of only two losses suffered since by Pacquiao, who reigns as WBA welterweight champion at 41.

    CHELSEA 2015-16

    Chelsea won the Premier League title in 2014-15 and 2016-17. What came in between was nothing short of a complete shambles. Jose Mourinho had returned for a second spell in charge and collected a third winners' medal in England's top flight but the Portuguese's famously abrasive tendencies then appeared to wear his players down at an alarming rate.

    Beginning with the 2-2 draw against Swansea City that ignited Mourinho's sapping spat with club doctor Eva Carneiro, Chelsea won only one of their opening five Premier League fixtures. That form was far from a blip and they were 16th when Mourinho was sacked in the wake of a 2-1 December loss to would-be champions Leicester City. Caretaker boss Guus Hiddink restored a modicum of respectability with a 10th-place finish before Antonio Conte arrived and the Stamford Bridge faithful were soon wondering if it had all just been a bad dream.

    SERENA WILLIAMS 2006

    Williams started the year by losing her Australian Open crown with a third-round exit to Daniele Hantuchova, before injuries forced her to miss tournaments in Tokyo and Dubai. Come April, she had dropped out of the WTA top 100 for the first time since November 1997, and it came as little surprise that she competed at neither the French Open nor Wimbledon. 

    After a fourth-round exit at the US Open, Williams ended a title-less year 95th in the world. It meant she returned to the Australian Open in January 2007 as an unseeded player. She won it. 

  • NFL What Ifs: What if the Colts had picked Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning? NFL What Ifs: What if the Colts had picked Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning?

    Heading into the 1998 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts had what was deemed to be a tricky choice to make.

    Armed with the first overall pick, new team president Bill Polian had two quarterbacks to choose from: Peyton Manning – the son of a former NFL player who starred at the University of Tennessee – or Ryan Leaf, the big man with a strong arm who had decided to leave Washington State a year early to enter the league.

    History, of course, tells us the Colts made the correct call.

    Manning spent 14 seasons in Indianapolis, his hugely successful spell with the team including leading them to glory in Super Bowl XLI. His jersey number (18) was retired by the franchise, while there is a statue of him at the team's Lucas Oil Stadium.

    The San Diego Chargers, meanwhile, claimed Leaf at two. Their marriage did not run so smoothly – or last too long (three seasons, to be precise). He played just 25 games in a career that also included a stop in Dallas, throwing 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions, and is regarded as one of – if not the – biggest draft busts.

    But what if Leaf had gone first instead? Let's start at the beginning…

     

    THE COLTS

    Having the first pick was the ideal building block for Polian, who was always going to hand new head coach Jim Mora a rookie QB to work with.

    Manning started from the outset with the Colts. There were early teething problems and he finished his debut season with a 3-13 record, throwing more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26).

    However, the chance to learn on the job aided his development. The Colts went on to make the playoffs in the next two seasons and while 2001 was not so successful, a 6-10 campaign led to the arrival of Tony Dungy as head coach and, well, the rest is history.

    Whether Leaf would have developed in the same circumstances has to be considered doubtful with how his career panned out, but Indianapolis would have at least afforded him time in which to prove himself.

    They also had two rather useful pieces to help, as a running back by the name of Marshall Faulk and a wide receiver called Marvin Harrison were already on the roster.

    Had Leaf still flamed out in a similar timeframe with the Colts – it should be pointed out he missed his second season in San Diego through injury - they may well have used the 2001 draft to find a replacement. The Chargers did exactly that, using the 32nd pick on Drew Brees.

    THE CHARGERS

    Here is where an alternative NFL timeline gets seriously interesting.

    Manning as a Charger may not have blossomed in time to keep head coach Kevin Gilbride in a job – he was fired midway through the 1998 season, his second at the helm – but he may well have been the key to keeping the team in San Diego.

    Owner Dean Spanos moved the Chargers to Los Angeles after an unsuccessful attempt to get a new stadium built. A failure to secure tax-payer funding led to relocation in 2017.

    Surely, though, the presence of Manning could have made a difference. On-field success - perhaps even a Super Bowl triumph like the one the Colts enjoyed - could have led to them getting the backing required to stay put.

    Instead, L.A. is now home, though they have so far struggled in competition with the Rams to attract fans. There have even been rumours that the Chargers could move again soon, this time overseas to become the NFL's permanent residents in London.

    And what of Brees? Manning's presence would have made picking another QB a waste of draft resources. In 2001, the team to next take a player at the position after the Chargers were the Cowboys, meaning Drew could well have gone on to become a star in Dallas instead.

    THE 2004 DRAFT

    Of course, there is another Manning whose career would have changed if you take a sliding doors approach to the '98 draft.

    After life with Leaf failed to pan out, the Chargers had better luck with Brees before then moving on to Philip Rivers.

    However, they selected Peyton's younger brother Eli with the first pick in 2004, rather than Rivers, even though the former Ole Miss quarterback never had any intention of playing for them.

    Eli ended up in New York with the Giants in a trade that saw Rivers, who was drafted at four, head in the opposite direction. The next QB taken that year? Ben Roethlisberger, who went to the Pittsburgh Steelers at 11. The Buffalo Bills also used their first-round pick on the position, opting for J.P. Losman after moving up to 22.

    Yet had Peyton's place been in San Diego, several notable signal callers selected early in 2004 could have ended up in different locations to begin their pro careers.

  • Bill Belichick 'was only going to pay Tom Brady so much' to stay with Patriots Bill Belichick 'was only going to pay Tom Brady so much' to stay with Patriots

    There was a limit to what Bill Belichick was going to pay Tom Brady to stay with the New England Patriots, according to Charlie Weis.

    Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency and Weis believes the superior supporting cast on offer in Florida was another key driver in the quarterback’s decision to leave New England.

    Weis was Offensive Coordinator with the Patriots for the first three Super Bowls won by Belichick and Brady.

    While the head coach and QB are not "beer buddies", he insists there is a significant level of respect between them.

    Weis told ESPN on WEEI: "Really at the end, it comes right down to that Bill felt there was only so much money they were going to pay for Tommy and Tommy looked at it and said, 'Really, I've had enough of this shtick'.

    "He's still got plenty of gas left in the tank, but I think he got to the point where you look at these other places you talk about, you look at the Buccaneers, you look at the Chargers.

    "You look at some of these places and say, 'Were they better options for him with the abilities of the players around him?' The answer was, emphatically, yes.

    "Both Tommy and Bill have a great respect for each other but they are not beer buddies. They are not going to go out, sit down and go out socially. It wasn't about that. 

    "Relationships are irrelevant. It's not a business where you are worrying about whether people like you or not. It’s all about respect and there definitely was mutual respect."

    Despite understanding the reasons behind Brady's move to the Bucs, Weis was still taken aback when the news emerged.

    "I was surprised - as a matter of fact, my comment at the time was that I was a little stunned," he added.

    "Even though the further it went on, the more likely it was, I had a tough time imagining that was the way it was going to end."

    While more than five months remain before the new NFL season, the Patriots appear ready to give second-year pro Jarrett Stidham the chance to succeed Brady, who is the latest in a long line of star veterans Belichick has allowed to leave.

    "That is the way the building works," said Weis. "They never are afraid to let somebody go, even if they've still got gas left in their tank, because it's all about business. 

    "For people who want to make it personal and want to talk about egos and all that, do those things come into play? Yes, they do. But really, from Bill's standpoint, it's all about business."

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