Timing is everything. For an NFL coach, a lack of personnel cohesion can spell the difference between being good and being a champion.
In 2018, timing may finally be coming together for Andy Reid. The long-time Eagles and Chiefs coach has built several playoff units, and one Super Bowl squad, with his ‘03 Eagles, but the pieces have never meshed in sequence to deliver a title.
The template Andy has followed in vain came from his time as one of Mike Holmgren’s top coaches at Green Bay in the mid-’90s, along with Steve Mariucci and Jon Gruden. Holmgren built a fearsome offense around Brett Favre that could never seem to get past the Triplets-era Cowboys. That team came close in 1995, losing a shootout to Dallas in the NFC Championship game that saw Favre rip Dallas’ secondary with repeated deep strikes to receiver Robert Brooks and tight end Keith Jackson.
The Packers tipped the scales in their favor the following season when they added speedster Andre Rison to their already loaded passing attack. The quartet of Brooks, Rison, Jackson and Antonio Freeman possessed too much vertical speed for opposing secondaries and Reid, the team’s offensive line coach, garnered the only Super Bowl ring of his career.
In Philadelphia, Reid tried in vain to re-fashion the Eagles in the mold of those mid-’90s Packers. He started his Eagles rein by drafting Donovan McNabb and added the shifty Brian Westbrook to run shotgun in the backfield. But Andy could not land an effective receiving target to stretch the field, though he spent many high picks trying. In 2004 he bought his man, trading with the 49ers for Terrell Owens. Owens posted a Pro Bowl season and helped Reid to his only Super Bowl as a head coach, though that 2004 squad fell short against the Patriots.
That fragile alliance broke soon thereafter, as Owens’ off-field issues led to his release two years later. With McNabb aging, Reid finally hit on a run of young skill position complements. In the 2008 and 2009 drafts, Reid 2.0 came into shape, as Philly first drafted speedster, DeSean Jackson, then complementary WR Jeremy Maclin and slasher Shady McCoy the following spring.
Reid again had a track team to match those dangerous Favre-era Packers squads but was again vexed by the fates. Jim Johnson, Reid’s longtime defensive lieutenant, succumbed to cancer just as the new Ferrari offense was taking shape. The Eagles made a few more playoff runs before McNabb aged and the bottom fell out on Andy’s tenure with the Eagles.
Reid slow-rolled his opening in Kansas City, but in the past two years has again gone to the relay team philosophy that made those late McNabb Eagles teams so dangerous. The Chiefs started this rebuild around tight end Travis Kelce, the first vertical threat tight end Reid has worked with since Keith Jackson. In 2016 Reid took a 5th round flyer on Tyreek Hill, a mighty mite from West Alabama who posted one of that year’s fastest 40 times. Last year, he added Kareem Hunt, a do-it-all running back in the Brian Westbrook mold. He started that draft with Pat Mahomes, who spent 2017 holding a clipboard and mastering the scheme.
This off-season, Kansas City spent big on wideout Sammy Watkins a former top four draft pick with deep speed of his own. The Chiefs dealt incumbent QB Alex Smith to Washington and handed Mahomes the offensive keys.
So far, the move looks inspired. Mahomes has set league records for the fastest start by a young quarterback, throwing fourteen touchdown passes in his first month, with no interceptions. The big-armed Mahomes showed his mettle Monday night in Denver when he rallied the team for two 4th quarter touchdowns in a 27-23 win. Mahomes showed the spectacular, converting a key 4th down pass by switching the ball from his right hand and shot putting the ball left-handed to his receiver. On the subsequent drive, he overcame a 2nd-and-30 hole with two deep darts after he scrambled away from Broncos pressure.
Reid 3.0 looks to be the most potent of any offense Andy has assembled and has paced the Chiefs to an undefeated start. Mahomes 4x4 relay team of weapons has posted a league-best 36.3 points per game in September.
But bad timing may again bedevil him. His defense, an early mainstay of his Chiefs tenure under coordinator Bob Sutton, has struggled this year and has surrendered an average of 29 points per game.
It’s been a shootout every week for the Chiefs and while that may be exciting for the average fan, it must try the blood pressure of Chiefs' partisans. There is a Super Bowl precedent for this blueprint. Dan Marino led his ‘84 Dolphins to the Super Bowl in his first season as a starter, winning the league’s MVP award. His offense averaged 32 points per game and he threw a league-best 48 touchdown passes. That team fell short against a 49ers team that had a defense to match its own high-powered offense.
Can Mahomes and his coach gun sling their way to a title outscoring every challenger? Can Sutton find enough defense to give the Chief’s O that cushion they need? We’re all going to have a lot of fun finding out.