NFL

Super Bowl LV: Bruce Arians, Andy Reid and the value of taking a risk in the NFL

By Sports Desk February 04, 2021

An NFL season unlike any other concludes on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet in a Super Bowl with a difference.  

The Bucs have home advantage as they bid to make history – no team has ever before played for the Lombardi Trophy in their own stadium – but there will be no full house present to watch the action unfold. In a campaign shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, there will be more cardboard cut-outs in attendance than real fans.   

As for the game itself, Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes is box office viewing. Both have supporting casts that can accentuate their talent, giving us a battle between two quarterbacks at opposite ends of their NFL careers but with the same goal: Win one more ring.   

Then there are the head coaches. Andy Reid, who couldn't win the big games, until he actually did. Bruce Arians, who retired from coaching, until he came back. They have continued to work through unprecedented times in the league, where protocols have dictated daily schedules and the only talk of two-a-days referred to COVID-19 testing, rather than practices.    

Adapting to their specific situations has been the key to getting this far, according to former NFL head coach Brian Billick, now working for NFL Media. 

"They evolve, they do what their players do best," Billick said on a conference call. "Certainly, Andy Reid has morphed that offense around Patrick Mahomes. He's been able to adapt exactly to the talents. 

"Bruce Arians is the same way, the things that he's doing with the experience of Tom Brady and the big play presence on the outside. They adapt, specifically to the type of players that they have around them."

After starting out in the NFL in a number of roles with Green Bay, Reid had success in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles – he remains top of their all-time list for wins - without ever managing to secure the franchise a first Super Bowl. The narrative of coming up short in the postseason continued in Kansas City, but eventually – thanks to a fourth-quarter comeback – he got over the hump.   

The Super Bowl triumph in 2020 ended any suggestion that Reid's Hall-of-Fame career required a ring for validation. Since then, he has appeared to be playing with house money.   

Depending on what unfolds on the field this weekend, the fourth-down call against the Cleveland Browns may well remain the lasting memory of this playoff run for Kansas City. Minus Mahomes and defending a five-point lead late in the game, a hard count by stand-in quarterback Chad Henne seemed the prelude to a punt. 

Hold what you have and hope to hang on, right? Not for Reid, who went all in. 

Knowing a first down would seal victory and a place in the AFC Championship Game, he allowed Henne to snap the ball while in the shotgun, wait briefly for Tyreek Hill to break on his shallow route and then fire in a pass to the wide receiver. The risk was great, but so too was the reward.  

Had Arians been in a similar situation, he too may have gone for it. A cancer survivor, the 68-year-old is known for his "No risk it, no biscuit" way of thinking, both in terms of his coaching philosophy and life in general.  

The Buccaneers certainly pushed all their chips into the middle of the table for this season, too. The seemingly unthinkable became reality when Brady walked away from the New England Patriots to start afresh in 'Tompa Bay', a move that tempted the retired Rob Gronkowski to put away the wrestling pants and don the football pads again. 

There were teething problems, as to be expected, yet Arians always insisted the team was learning on the fly, adjusting from week to week with a new starting quarterback – even one as good as Brady. 

However, the Bucs have been on a roll since their bye week. Four straight victories in which they amassed a combined total of 148 points to finish the regular season were followed by playoff triumphs on the road in Washington, New Orleans – who had previously beaten them twice – and then finally Green Bay.  

Arians went close to making a Super Bowl in his previous head coaching job in Arizona, losing in the NFC Championship Game. When he left in 2017, his future appeared to be in television working as an analyst.  

Then the Bucs called. 

Convincing both him and his wife Christine that it was the right move, he made a comeback. The arrival of Brady for his second season in charge changed the timeline, requiring Arians to use his man-management skills - "I'm not a father figure. I'm the cool uncle you'd like to have a drink with" - to bring it all together. 

The presence of a great quarterback on the rosters for both franchises should not overshadow what their coaches have achieved. Arians has ironed out the wrinkles in time while allowing Brady to turn back the clock in terms of airing the ball out. Reid's biggest issue in the regular season seemed to be finding a suitable face mask to wear, yet he could still see how to put Mahomes in situations that allowed him to dazzle.  

Arians and Reid have prevailed in hugely different circumstances but with the same positive outlook. Despite all that is on the line, you should expect both to be ready to gamble in the bid for glory. 

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  • Raphinha: What's so special about the Barcelona and Chelsea target? Raphinha: What's so special about the Barcelona and Chelsea target?

    "He wants to come."

    Barcelona president Joan Laporta did not mince his words when speaking about the possibility of the Blaugrana signing Raphinha.

    Last week, Chelsea struck a deal with Leeds United – reported to be worth around £55million with add-ons taking the total fee to more than £60m – to take the Brazil winger from Elland Road to Stamford Bridge.

    That agreement seemingly saw Chelsea pip London rivals Arsenal to the post after a high-profile pursuit.

    Yet a deal that seemed set for a swift resolution has, as of yet, not been completed, and that is because, if Laporta is to be believed, the 25-year-old is prioritising a switch not to Stamford Bridge, but Camp Nou.

    Barca have been consistently linked to Raphinha, who has established himself as one of the most exciting attackers in the Premier League since his move to Leeds from Rennes in September 2020.

    Yet Laporta acknowledged that, despite Raphinha's wish to join Barca – whose financial issues make matching Chelsea's offer to Leeds problematic – the race is not won.

    "We've spoken to Leeds, I don't think they will be offended," he explained. "We have communication and we have spoken personally. 

    "What happens is that there are other clubs that want Raphinha and they are making their proposals."

    At this stage, it does seem to be a two-horse race. Previously, with Barca's interest having seemed to have cooled, Arsenal looked well set to beat their rivals Tottenham to the winger, but it was then Chelsea who stole a march.

    Bayern Munich have been credited with an interest in the past, but Sadio Mane's switch to Bavaria has ruled the German champions out.

    But just why has Raphinha, a somewhat under-the-radar arrival in Yorkshire under two years ago, been so coveted?
     

    Brazilian stardust meets street fighter spirit

    Brazil. The home of the Copacabana, festivals and beautiful football. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Pele, Kaka, Neymar, Zico, Socrates... the list of world-class talent produced by the South American nation is endless. They are five-time world champions for a reason.

    But while Brazilian flair remains in abundance, the most recent success stories when it comes to the players that have struck gold, in the Premier League at least, have been those who have merged that national talent with steel, grit and robustness perhaps more associated with the likes of Argentina, Uruguay or the northern European nations.

    Raphinha fits that bill, and like Premier League-based compatriots Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, always seemed set to move for pastures new this off-season.

    His talent cannot be doubted. Since making his Leeds debut, he has directly contributed to 29 Premier League goals, scoring 17 times and providing 12 assists, at least five more than any team-mates in the period.

     

    The variety of his strikes has also been hugely impressive, with seven of his league goals for Leeds coming from outside the area. Only one player – Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse – can boast a better total (nine) in the same time frame.

    Raphinha's 11 league goals last season marked his best performance since the 15 he netted in the 2017-18 campaign, when he played for Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal. He did not score as freely for Sporting CP, and only managed seven goals during his sole full season with Rennes in France.

    Leeds' system, particularly under former manager Marcelo Bielsa and even still under Jesse Marsch, is physically demanding.

    Raphinha, however, proved more than up to the task. Indeed, last season, he was a standout performer when it came to both targeted off-ball runs into the final third, and the number of sprints made per 90 minutes. 

    A tireless runner, Raphinha offers both sides of the game.

    He compares competitively when stacked up against Tottenham new boy Richarlison, one of the hardest working wide players in the Premier League across his time with Everton and a player that Raphinha competes with for a place in the Brazil side.

    Raphinha's duel success rate of 42.6 per cent falls just short of Richarlison's 43.4 per cent, since the winger's league debut for Leeds on October 19, 2020, while the pair have won the same number of tackles (42), albeit Richarlison's success percentage of 59.7 compared to Raphinha's 54.1 puts him ahead in that regard.

    Nevertheless, whichever club gets Raphinha is buying not just attacking output, but defensive steel.
     

    Top-class creativity 

    As mentioned, Raphinha's attacking output is up there with the best the Premier League has had to offer in recent seasons, especially when Leeds' struggles last season are taken into account.

    Only four forwards have created more goals in the competition than Raphinha since his Premier League debut, and just one – Tottenham star Son Heung-min (131) – has created more chances in total than his tally of 129.

    Of those opportunities, 85 came from open play, ranking him third in the division's attackers behind Mane (93) and Mohamed Salah (101), with his 22 big chances trailing only Salah and Harry Kane (both 26).

     

    Raphinha has attempted 286 dribbles, the third-highest total in the league behind Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin, though his success rate (41.3) trails some way behind that duo.

    Four forwards had more than Raphinha's 155 shots, though his conversion rate of just under 11 per cent shows an area of improvement if he is to succeed at one of Europe's elite clubs.
     

    World Cup hopes

    It was in Portugal, not his homeland, that Raphinha made his name, but ahead of Qatar 2022, he seems a shoo-in to make Tite's squad.

    He has won nine caps since his first selection in October last year, when he assisted twice on just his second appearance in a 3-1 win over Venezuela before scoring twice on his full debut in a 4-1 rout of Uruguay. Raphinha's third international strike came in a 4-0 defeat of Paraguay.

    While a place on the plane to Qatar should be secured, barring injury, Raphinha will be determined to ensure he is fighting for a place in Tite's starting XI.

    Brazil's coach has plenty of options to choose from for both flanks; the aforementioned Richarlison and Jesus can play central or wide, while Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior is surely a certainty to start on the left. Ajax's Antony, Madrid's Rodrygo and Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli and Everton, now back in Brazil with Flamengo, are all likely to be in that fight, too. 

    Should he get his move to either London or Barcelona, Raphinha will get the opportunity to show Tite he truly can perform on the biggest stage.

  • Favre would be 'shocked' if Adams matches Green Bay production in Las Vegas Favre would be 'shocked' if Adams matches Green Bay production in Las Vegas

    Green Bay Packers great Brett Favre would be shocked if star receiver Davante Adams has the same production with the Las Vegas Raiders as he had playing alongside quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    Adams signed a five-year, $141.25million contract extension with the Raiders after a blockbuster offseason trade from the Packers, turning down an offer of more money to remain in Green Bay.

    The pass-catcher left four-time MVP and 38-year-old Rodgers to reunite with Derek Carr, who was his QB in college at Fresno State.

    Favre is in no doubt the presence of Adams will improve Carr and the Raiders but would be surprised if the wideout was able to match his career-best totals of 123 receptions for 1,553 yards last season.

    Adams also caught 11 touchdowns in 2021, which was his second straight All-Pro season, having grabbed an incredible 18 the year before. 

    "Derek Carr is a very good quarterback, but he's not in Aaron's league yet," Favre said to TMZ Sports.

    "He may never be, and that's no disrespect either, but I do think that Davante owes a great deal of gratitude to Aaron and the Packers drafting him.

    "That's not to say he's not a great player because he is a tremendous player and we'll see that with Las Vegas. 

    "But it's just hard to shift gears, especially from a player as prolific as Aaron Rodgers. 

    "I'd be shocked if he had the same year he's had this year. That's not to say he can't do it, but I would be shocked."

    Favre added: "No disrespect to Davante at all - zero disrespect. I do think that Davante will make Derek Carr better and, in time, they will be a dynamic duo. 

    "Now will it be the duo that Aaron and Davante had? Time will tell."

    Adams and Carr will be part of a star-studded AFC West in 2022.

    The Kansas City Chiefs have won the division for six straight years and made four straight AFC Championship Games, but all three of their rivals go into the year with postseason aspirations.

    Las Vegas have added Adams as one of many high-profile moves and the Denver Broncos traded for star QB Russell Wilson.

    The Los Angeles Chargers, meanwhile, have high expectations as they surround Justin Herbert with one of the NFL's strongest all-round rosters.

  • Phillips, Guardiola and Man City a match made in heaven Phillips, Guardiola and Man City a match made in heaven

    When it comes to recruitment and squad construction, there aren't many clubs – if any – that are run more effectively than Manchester City.

    Their Premier League title success in the 2021-22 season was just another reminder of how good they are on the pitch, yet the people in charge are not the types to simply sit around admiring their achievements.

    Even before winning a fourth Premier League crown in five years – a feat only ever previously managed by Alex Ferguson's Manchester United – it was clear where City were going to strengthen.

    A deal for arguably the most sought-after striker in world football, Erling Haaland, was wrapped up two weeks before the season ended, and then with Fernandinho expected to depart, another central midfielder was to be the second priority.

    Kalvin Phillips proved to be the chosen one, with City confirming on Monday that the England international has completed his reported £45million move from Leeds United, having undergone a medical on Friday.

    It's an impressive statement by City, who have already bolstered their two primary problem areas – if you can call them that – by the first week of July.

    And with respect to Phillips' signing, there's a lot to suggest it's a shrewd acquisition.

     

    Moulded by Bielsa

    Of course, the most obvious – and arguably crucial – link here is Marcelo Bielsa. It was under the Argentinian coach that Phillips has played the best football of his career and cemented himself as an England regular.

    Bielsa is also considered one of Pep Guardiola's greatest inspirations, with an apparent 11-hour meeting between the pair back in 2006 said to have played a major role in the City boss' decision to go into management.

    The similarities between the two coaches' styles of play are significant, and this should facilitate a smooth transition for Phillips.

    Under Bielsa he'll have become accustomed to not only intense training sessions, but also a playing philosophy that revolves around possession-based football and relentless counter pressing.

    In terms of the latter, City are perhaps a little more considered in their efforts compared to Bielsa's Leeds, but either way Phillips has been exposed to the same fundamentals, and that can only be a tick in the pros column.

    After all, a second-season bounce has become commonplace for signings under Guardiola. Numerous players have needed a full campaign to truly get to grips with the demands required by the Catalan coach before going on to show significant improvement and growth thereafter – Phillips might be better-equipped than most to hit the ground running.

    But that brings up a separate issue; what will Phillips be to City?

    Rodri the immovable object

    Having come through Leeds' academy, established himself as a key player and then gone on to be a fulcrum in Bielsa's team, Phillips was the first name on the teamsheet – when fit – for several years at Elland Road.

    Regardless of his suitability for City, it seems unlikely he'll enjoy a similar status in Guardiola's team. Phillips is at his most effective as lone defensive midfielder, but so too is Rodri, and it's difficult to imagine the Spain international being suddenly taken out of the team given how effective he's proven to be.

    Rodri's 2,937 successful passes in the opposition's half since the start of the 2020-21 season is over 400 more than any other Premier League player, and his 577 ball recoveries over the same period is the joint-most alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, though the Dane has played almost 1,000 minutes more.

    Of course, who's to say Phillips couldn't play the role even more effectively? But the key thing to consider is that Rodri has an important function in both keeping City on the ball and then winning it back when they don't, and he demonstrably does both well.

    Nevertheless, Guardiola's proven he's a coach keen to rotate. He gave at least 900 minutes of Premier League football to 18 players last season, with only four teams bettering that, so Phillips can still expect plenty of game time.

    And, to be fair, Phillips might not have even been up to the task of being a regular starter for City given how much time he spent sidelined last season.

    A match made in heaven

    Clearly, then, Guardiola's rotation policy would suggest Phillips will have opportunities to deputise for Rodri and take up the back-up role vacated by Fernandinho, yet there's no doubt he possesses the skillset to also play alongside the former Atletico Madrid midfielder as well.

    First and foremost, he's a more progressive player than Rodri. Over the past two seasons, 28 per cent of Phillips' passes have been forward, the exact same figure as Fernandinho and a fair bit more than Rodri's 20 per cent.

    Similarly, in the same period Phillips has played 3.5 passes into the box every 90 minutes, whereas Rodri has averaged two, and his 1.0 dribble attempts each game is also slightly more than his new team-mate (0.9).

    But in a way it shouldn't necessarily matter which midfield role Phillips plays in, given he has a range of abilities that should suit him either as a number six or a number eight, especially in a Guardiola team.

    On top of that, Phillips doesn't turn 27 until December, so he is very much entering his prime years, and if anyone can squeeze every ounce of potential out of a player, it's Guardiola.

    Then when you consider Phillips' history with Bielsa and type of team he played in at Leeds, everything points to this being a match made in heaven.

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