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. 

Related items

  • Raiders general manager Maycock fired Raiders general manager Maycock fired

    The Las Vegas Raiders have fired general manager Mike Maycock in the wake of the playoff defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Las Vegas lost 19-26 in the AFC Wild Card game on Saturday, though NFL media have reported that the Raiders had already made their decision on Maycock.

    He was appointed as GM in 2019 and leaves with a 25-24 record.

    The Raiders are now searching for both a GM and a head coach, after they passed up the chance to keep on interim Rich Bisaccia.

    Las Vegas won their last four games to secure an unlikely wildcard spot.

    Jon Gruden resigned from his post in 2021 after it was revealed that he had written racist, misogynistic, and homophobic emails between 2011 and 2018.

  • Cardinals activate J.J. Watt from IR for Wild Card clash with Rams Cardinals activate J.J. Watt from IR for Wild Card clash with Rams

    The Arizona Cardinals have activated J.J. Watt from injured reserve in time for him to make an unexpected return for their Wild Card round clash with the Los Angeles Rams.

    Watt was placed on injured reserve in November having undergone what was thought to be season-ending shoulder surgery in October.

    However, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year has expedited his recovery and will line up for the Cardinals on Monday as they look to upset their NFC West rivals at SoFi Stadium.

    Despite playing only seven games, Watt ended the regular season with the third-most quarterback pressures among Cardinals defenders with 32.

    The Cardinals are looking to claim their first playoff win since the 2015 campaign when they lost the NFC Championship Game to the Carolina Panthers.

  • False promises and falling outs – the inevitable fall of Rafael Benitez False promises and falling outs – the inevitable fall of Rafael Benitez

    The irony of Everton sacking Rafael Benitez on the day Carlo Ancelotti won the first trophy of his second Real Madrid stint was not lost on the Goodison Park faithful.

    Ancelotti stunned Everton in June by leaving to return to Madrid. While there can be no comparison between Los Blancos when it comes to allure, it cut deep that a manager who seemed committed to a long-term project on Merseyside, had left at the first opportunity.

    Not that Ancelotti's 18 months at Everton had been a roaring success. His final game was a 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City – the heaviest defeat of the Italian's managerial career, in his 1,167th match.

    That result condemned Everton to a 10th-placed finish. Just City and Manchester United won more away games last term in the Premier League, yet the Toffees suffered nine home defeats, with only the three relegated sides losing more on their own turf.

    But there was a feeling that Everton might have enough to push on under Ancelotti, should reinforcements arrive.

    Instead, it was former Liverpool boss Benitez, who had replaced Ancelotti for an ill-fated spell at Madrid in 2015, who arrived at Goodison.

    An unpopular pick among the fanbase, the Spaniard was always starting from behind the eight-ball.

    As was inevitable, the experiment failed. Benitez was sacked on Sunday after defeat at lowly Norwich City with Everton lingering six points above the bottom three after a run of one win in 13 league games (the club's joint-worst Premier League run) and facing the prospect of hiring a sixth permanent manager since 2016-17.

    False promises

    From Benitez's first news conference, it was clear that Everton, lavish spenders in recent years, were going to be cutting their cloth in line with tight financial limitations.

    "You have to work in the context of having a director of football, the board, and financial restrictions," he said after becoming only the second manager to take over Everton and Liverpool. "Talk the talk and walk the walk? I prefer to walk the walk."

    Only £1.7million was spent, but Everton started the league campaign brightly. Indeed, ahead of a September 13 game with Burnley, they had scored seven times, as many as they had in their last 10 games last term.

    After a 1-1 draw with United on October 2, Everton had 14 points from their seven Premier League games, the most since they had gone on to secure a fourth-place finish in the competition in 2004-05 (16). 

    Was that optimism built on solid foundations, though?

    Benitez's system was based on counter-attacking, with Everton happy to surrender possession. Only once before October had they had more than 50 per cent of the ball (51.71 v Burnley).

    It is a trend that has continued, with Everton – who have had more possession than only three top-flight teams across the season – only seeing more of the ball than their opponents on three further occasions. In each of those games, they lost.

    However, to be a counter-attacking team you must be solid, and Everton are not. They have shipped 34 goals, with only four teams having weaker defences, while 11 goals have been conceded from set-pieces, the second-worst figure in the league (Ancelotti's team only allowed 10 from dead-ball situations in 2020-21).

    But since Everton's woeful run started with a 1-0 defeat to West Ham on October 17, they have taken the lead just once – in a 5-2 home defeat to Watford. It is hard to sit back and play on the break if you are constantly chasing a game.

    In total, the Toffees have spent 36 per cent of games losing this season (when the ball has been in play), and only 12 per cent of the time ahead. West Ham (12) are the sole team to have gained more points from a losing position than Everton (11), so at least Benitez's men showed resolve on occasion.

    From October 17, Everton rank 18th for goals (11), 16th for shots on target (46/139), 12th for touches in the opposition box (259), 15th for chances created (93) and have the third-worst defence (27 goals conceded). They have an expected goals against (xGA) of 20.6 in that timeframe, the fourth-worst in the division. Their position is in no way false.

    Everton did play forward under Benitez (41.6 per cent of their passes were in an attacking direction, up from 32.9 per cent last season) but on only 86 occasions have they strung together a move of 10 passes or more, which ranks them 18th in the league, while their 490 passes/crosses is the fifth-lowest total.

    The bright sparks in that run have come from moments of inspiration. Demarai Gray's stunning winner against Arsenal or Richarlison's overhead kick at Norwich. Gray has been a standout performer, scoring five league goals from an xG of only 2.7, but it felt like there has been too much onus on the winger in recent weeks.

    Though injuries to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Abdoulaye Doucoure must be taken into account, Benitez's mantra became "I know what the fans want", but he appeared to be talking the talk rather than walking the walk. 

    Falling outs

    With Everton craving stability and unity, it is odd that owner Farhad Moshiri (more on him later) turned to Benitez, who was never the right pick to unite the fanbase or stabilise the club.

    He has fallen out with owners, sporting directors and high-profile players at previous clubs and, indeed, his time at Everton proved no different.

    Director of football Marcel Brands, who signed a contract extension in April, was moved on when Everton fans protested over the running of the club back in December, following a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool. 

    Evertonians' worst nightmare had played out, their rivals singing Benitez's name at Goodison after a humiliating defeat. It was the first time the Reds scored four goals in an away league derby since a 5-0 win in 1982, and Brands paid the price. His recruitment department followed, with director of medical services Dan Donachie having already left.

    Everton offered their full backing to Benitez and five days later, claimed a vital win over Arsenal. But a cloud hung over that victory.

    Since his arrival at Everton, Lucas Digne was second only to Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold for chances created by a Premier League defender (211). The France international had spoken openly of having been asked to play a more defensive role under Benitez, though behind the scenes matters appeared to boil over in a reported training-ground row.

    Digne was dropped and did not return bar, for reasons known only to Benitez himself, to take a seat on the bench in a 3-2 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion. The full-back received applause from the crowd when he warmed up, but did not come on despite Everton needing an equaliser late on in a game in which they only made two changes.

    Last week, Digne was sold to Aston Villa. The sale eases the financial issues but leaves Everton without their third-most creative player (22 key passes) in the league this term. Indeed, only Andros Townsend (2.13) has crafted more opportunities for them this season than Digne (1.69) per 90 minutes.

    With Digne and James Rodriguez, who left for Qatar in September, gone and Gylfi Sigurdsson not involved, Everton are without all three of their leading creators from 2020-21.

    Moshiri mayhem

    Benitez leaves with a 26.3 win percentage from 19 league games. Only Mike Walker performed worse in the Premier League era. His dismissal should have come sooner, it seemed pointless delaying the inevitable.

    But for his faults, he is not the root cause of Everton's issues and owner Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright must look in the mirror.

    Since Moshiri took over in 2016, Everton have recorded 1.37 points per game, ranking them 10th in the league, but a vast amount of investment has been made. So, what next?

    Roberto Martinez, who was sacked in 2016, is reportedly a leading candidate. The Belgium boss won 21 Premier League games in his first season in charge at Everton, guiding them to a record points total of 72, but he won just 22 games combined across the next two years.

    Lucien Favre has also been mooted. He averaged 2.08 points per game at Borussia Dortmund, a figure bettered by only Thomas Tuchel (2.09) and new boss Marco Rose (2.11), while the Swiss led the club to their third-best Bundesliga points tally in 2017-18. He could provide experience and a modern approach.

    Graham Potter seems to have ruled himself out. Wayne Rooney is doing terrific work at Derby County, might he be an option?

    For now though, Everton's immediate focus must be on avoiding a relegation scrap. 

    Assistant Duncan Ferguson, who remained unbeaten in the league in his spell in charge prior to Ancelotti's arrival, seems a logical pick to take over on a temporary basis, with Villa visiting Goodison on Saturday, to perhaps provide some of the spark missing during Benitez's doomed tenure and buy Everton time to make the right choice.

    With just 19 points from the first half of the season, their lowest tally at the halfway stage of a season since 2005-06 (17), Everton cannot afford to get this appointment wrong, too.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.