Andy Reid came up in the West Coast offense where the quarterback performs almost like an NBA point guard, using short passes that talented playmakers can turn into long gains.
Bruce Arians’ offensive strategy has relied on the mantra “no risk it, no biscuit” as he wants his quarterbacks to take chances downfield even if it can lead to mistakes.
The approaches may be diametrically different, but both have been successful. Reid and Arians have consistently run prolific offenses that have helped the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers reach the Super Bowl.
But Reid and Arians reached the title game because both coaches have also shown the ability to adapt. Reid has gradually used more shotgun and spread formations over the years, helping Patrick Mahomes develop into the game’s top QB.
Arians has altered his offense a bit this season in Tampa Bay to cater to Tom Brady’s strengths, incorporating more motion and a few more shorter passes to go along with the deep strikes that remain a staple.
“If you’re not looking for new things every year, you’re falling behind,” the 68-year-old Arians said. “You can look at what some other people do. But if it really doesn’t match your personnel, it’s not a fit for you.”
There are plenty of differences in the two offensive strategies, but they can be boiled down to two key statistics from SportRadar that sum up how the passing games thrive.
The Bucs led the NFL this season with 42 completions that traveled at least 20 yards downfield, while the Chiefs ranked 14th with 26 deep completions this season.
“You can’t hit a home run unless you’re going to swing for one,” Arians said. “You can’t do anything special in life sitting on a fence.”
Kansas City led the league by gaining 2,447 yards after the catch as Mahomes took advantage of the playmaking ability of players like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Tampa Bay ranked 17th with 1,874 yards after the catch.
Reid’s offense creates space. His receivers have the second-best average separation for receivers, according to NFL NextGen stats, at 3.8 yards per throw.
“Coach Reid does a great job of giving you multiple looks out of certain formations, certain motions, certain movements,” Kelce said. “What that does is it helps kind of keep the defense in a reactionary position if you perform them the correct way.”
When Brady arrived in Tampa Bay this season after two decades in New England, there were questions about whether the 43-year-old quarterback had the arm strength to thrive in Arians’ offense.
After a midseason lull when he missed on 23 straight deep balls, Brady has completed 25 of 52 deep passes over the past eight games, nearly doubling his completion percentage on deep throws from the first 11 weeks.
Including the playoffs, Brady’s average throw has traveled a career-high 9.4 yards downfield and his 43 deep completions are the most since SportRadar began tracking air yards in 2016.
The average depth of throw is still lower than Arians’ offenses have done in the past as there’s been a meeting in the middle with the two strategies with Brady taking more chances downfield and Arians adding more motion and other aspects that Brady used so successfully in New England.
Arians’ former quarterback in Arizona, Carson Palmer, said he believes his old coach has been helped out by having Byron Leftwich call the plays.
“So I think just taking that off of his plate has really helped him evolve into an even better head coach,” Palmer said.
Reid is heavily involved with designing and calling the offense in Kansas City even if he does lean on coordinator Eric Bieniemy as well.
The offense that Mahomes has turned into the NFL’s most prolific has evolved greatly from the one Reid, who turns 63 in March, learned as an assistant under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay in the 1990s and then took to Philadelphia before arriving in Kansas City in 2013.
Reid started adding more spread elements with Smith and has supercharged that with Mahomes, who came from an Air Raid system in college.
“Certainly, Andy Reid and what he’s morphed that offense to around Patrick Mahomes is dramatically different than we saw with Alex Smith, is different than what we saw at the time he was in Philadelphia,” NFL Network analyst and former Baltimore head coach Brian Billick said. “He’s been able to adapt exactly to the talent, beginning with obviously Patrick Mahomes.”
Smith completed only 36 deep passes in his first three seasons combined with Reid from 2013-15, but the offense started to change when speedy Hill arrived in 2016. In Smith’s last year as a starter in 2017, he had 32 deep completions and increased his average length of throw by more than a yard to 7.7 yards downfield.
Mahomes has taken that even another step with his strong arm and ability to extend plays allowing for more deep strikes. He had 37 deep completions in 2018 with an average depth of target reaching 9.1 yards.
Those numbers have dropped a bit the past two years as defenses have employed more schemes with two deep safeties to limit Kansas City’s big-play ability.
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