Can revamped offensive line get Reid, Chiefs another ring?

Andy Reid is a member in good standing of the NFL’s 21st century coaching one and done club.

Since 2000, Bill Belichick has won six Super Bowls and Tom Coughlin won two.
No other coach has won more than one.

Reid has coached in three of them and lost two and was badly outcoached in both of the losses.

In last year’s Super Bowl loss to the Bucs, he didn’t adjust when he went into the game with a makeshift offensive line and Patrick Mahomes wound up running for his life.

That left Reid with a 17-15 playoff record in his 22-year coaching career. He still may get in the Hall of Fame. Bill Cowher made it with just one Super Bowl win. But like Cowher, he is not likely to be remembered as a Mt. Rushmore type coach unless he wins a couple more Super Bowls with Mahomes.

So is Reid going to get at least get a second Super Bowl victory or possibly even a third before he retires?

That is his challenge. And he has one thing going for him. He has Patrick Mahomes in his prime even though that doesn’t guarantee success.

Don Shula didn’t win a Super Bowl with John Unitas or Dan Marino although he won two and had a perfect season with Brian Griese. Sean Payton won one with Drew Brees. Tony Dungy won one with Peyton Manning.

But Reid and general manager Brett Veach made a major move recently to give Mahomes more protection when they traded for Orlando Brown of the Ravens. He will step into the left tackle spot vacated by Eric Fisher.

The Chiefs were fortunate Brown was on the market because the Ravens were already set at left tackle with Ronnie Stanley.

The only surprising thing is that the Ravens traded him to a team they will be trying to beat out for a Super Bowl spot.

It was probably their best offer, but it was a reasonable one for the Chiefs.

They gave up the 31st pick on the first round in return for the 58th pick on the second round so they moved down 27 spots and gave up a third and fourth round picks this year and a fifth round pick this year. The Chiefs also get a sixth round pick next year.

The Chiefs also shored up their line by signing guard Joe Thuney to a five-year, $80 million deal and luring former Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long out of retirement.

They also signed center Austin Blythe to a one-year deal and expect tackle Lucas Niang, who opted out last year, to return. They also think guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a doctor who opted out last year to work with Covid patients, will return. They will have a much better line than the one that couldn’t block the Bucs in the Super Bowl.

So will this revamped line help Reid and Mahomes get their second Super Bowl victory and third appearance in a row this fall?

Stay tuned. This is one of the biggest questions about the upcoming season.

Belichick’s seat is getting warmer without Brady

It wasn’t exactly news when Patriots owner Bob Kraft said during the offseason that the team hasn’t drafted well in recent years.

There is no doubt that the team’s poor drafting – along with the departure of Tom Brady – played a major role in the Patriots missing the playoffs last year with a 7-9 record.

The New York Post a year ago rated the Patriots drafting the previous five years as 25th in the league and noted they were one of two teams to not draft a Pro Bowler in that span. It didn’t help that the Patriots twice didn’t have a first round pick and twice picked 32nd.

Still the fact that Kraft said it raised eyebrows. Kraft has always defended Bill Belichick the last two decades, mainly because he won six Super Bowls. He was in Belichick’s corner when the coach faced controversies including Deflategate and filming the opposing team’s signals. And when Belichick went nine years without winning a Super Bowl when Brady was in his prime.

Kraft also said, “I really hope, and I believe, I’ve seen a different approach this year.”

Kraft didn’t elaborate on what this different approach is and it is not in Belichick’s DNA to give any answers.

In his lone press conference of the offseason, Belichick only made the generic comment that the Patriots are always trying to do better.
He did list several staffers who are playing major roles in the draft, seemingly suggesting he is not a one-man band.

One theory is that the Patriots need a general manager because Belichick is spread too thin running the whole show.

In the past, Brady was the Great Eraser, rubbing out the Belichick mistakes by carrying the team. One theory is that he left because he didn’t feel he had a good enough supporting cast. He found one in Tampa and won his seventh Super Bowl.

Whatever the problem is, Belichick will be under the microscope this year. Nobody expects him to win another Super Bowl but missing the playoffs a second year in a row would raise more questions about whether Belichick can turn this team around and what Kraft will do if he doesn’t.

Belichick did make a major plunge in free agency, spending $56.25 million in guaranteed money to bring in the top two tight ends on the market in Jonnu Smith and Henry Hunter. That is $5.25 million more in guaranteed money than he spent the last three years. That will give the quarterback two new targets.

What Belichick will do at quarterback in the draft is another big question. He’s got the 15th pick. Does he trade up to draft one on the first round? Does he draft one at 15 or not draft one on the first round, which he has never done in 26 years running the drafts with Cleveland and the Patriots.

For now, the quarterback is Cam Newton, who went 7-8 last year with eight touchdown passes and 10 picks. But he didn’t join the team until July and had to deal with a bout of Covid. Will he play better this year with a year in the system under his belt? We’ll see.

The only certain thing is that this will be a pivotal year for Belichick. Complicating the situation is the fact the AFC East is no longer a punching bag. The Patriots went 1-3 against the Bills and Dolphins last year. For years, winning the division was virtually guaranteed.

All this helps explain why Belichick needs to have a good draft if the Patriots are to be playoff worthy. He no longer has the Great Eraser to wipe out his mistakes. And he has an owner willing to publicly note his drafting record in recent years.

Times have changed for Belichick and we’ll see if he can adjust.

New book offers solid challenge to conventional sports wisdom

Derek Jeter was a Hall of Fame shortstop for the Yankees noted for being a good fielder who made spectacular plays and won five Golden Gloves.

But in the book “The Stats Game,” twin brothers Aidan and Maxwell Resnick say he wasn’t as good a fielder as his reputation.

They assert he didn’t have good range and was late getting to the ball and compensated by making what would be easy plays look difficult or spectacular.

This is in their book, the latest look at analytics in sports. It is a growing field as more and more analysts take a deeper dive into how we view the game.

For example, the authors say the eye test, especially watching on TV, doesn’t give a full look at Jeter fielding a grounder because we focus on the pitcher throwing the pitch and batter hitting it and by the time, we see Jeter he has already made a move to the ball.

The one drawback is that they don’t explain how they decided how Jeter ranks as a fielder and say that “multiple studies” reject the idea he was an elite defender, but don’t identify them except for a back of the book reference to an article about his “horrid” defense.

They also point out that Seattle throwing on second down from the one in the Super Bowl in the final minute when Russell Wilson was intercepted wasn’t as bad a call as it was reported at the time.

If they ran and were stopped on second down, they would have had to call their last timeout and then would have had to throw on third down.

But Bart Starr convinced Vince Lombardi to let him run a quarterback sneak on third down in the Ice Bowl and he scored, so you never know.

They don’t examine whether the problem was the kind of throw in the middle of the field in traffic when the receiver could be bumped instead of having Wilson throw to back of the end zone or sprinting out on a pass-run option. Or how many times the Seahawks had used that play from the one.

They give the stats on the chances of scoring from the one from 2010 to 2014 but don’t discuss what type of run or pass is best in that situation.

The Patriots mentioned after the game that Malcolm Butler, who made the interception, was beaten on that play in practice the week of the Super Bowl so Seattle may have used it one too many times.

Overall, though, sports fans will enjoy the book because of their insights on all the major sports.

Wilt Chamberlain is celebrated for averaging 50 points a game but he also tried more shots than most players.

Rafael Nadal dominated Roger Federer because of his advantage against him on clay.

They also discussed the dangers of making decisions on small sample size as the Red Sox did after they obtained pitcher Nathan Eovaldo from Tampa Bay and utility player Steve Pearce from Toronto in June of 2018 and they helped them win the World Series. They then overpaid them and wound up regretting it.

They also study the strategy of starting a game with a relief pitcher for an inning or two before bringing in the regular starter because pitchers often struggle the third time through the lineup.

Tampa Bay has used that strategy at times although some starters have objected to it and it is difficult to imagine not expecting great pitchers like Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson to pitch all nine innings.

There is much more in the book and the authors discuss how computer science and machine learning is evolving and who knows what sports analytics will look like 50 years from now.

For now, they point out that when sports fans watch sports, they should question everything they encounter more so than ever before.

The days of doing things one way before they have always been done that way may be fading.

The Super Bowl in review

— The torch wasn’t passed to a new generation in this Super Bowl. Tom Brady held it firmly in his hands to win his seventh Super Bowl as Tampa Bay routed the favored Chiefs. It was his first with a new team and means he has more Super Bowl rings than any team. The Steelers and Patriots have six each. 

— For the Chiefs, it was a night of running into a perfect storm. With both tackles injured, the Bucs were able to rush four, drop seven in coverage with two deep safeties. And the Chiefs made no adjustments and Patrick Mahomes was running for his life much of the game as he was pressured 29 times.  On top of that, the officials called some ticky tacky fouls Chiefs and, as usual, Andy Reid made some coaching blunders. He is 17-15 in the playoffs, 1-2 in Super Bowls, 0-4 in playoffs vs. Brady. His lack of adjustments when Chiefs saw they couldn’t block the Bucs front four and calling two-time outs at the end of the first half to help the Bucs score were inexcusable. And his team didn’t look well+ prepared. Reid also admitted after the game he should have helped Mahomes with more running plays. Then he also had to deal with his son’s traffic accident that left a young girl fighting for her life and raised questions about whether coaches should hire their sons or let them make it on their own.

— If the Chiefs had won, they would have been going for a threepeat and there would have been talk about a dynasty. Now there are questions about their future. As a Super Bowl loser, the odds are against them winning in 2021. Since Miami did it in 1972, the only team to lose the Super Bowl and win it the next year were the Patriots and Brady two years ago.

— If the Mahomes had won, he would have been trailing Brady in Super Bowls 6-2 with a lot of years to match him. Now the gap is 7-1. And while he figures to win again, the odds are against him catching Brady. And there are no guarantees he will win again. Brett Favre and Russell Wilson won one, lose one the next year and haven’t been back. Dan Marino lost one in his second year and never returned. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees each won one and haven‘t returned. Mahomes is still a wunderkind quarterback, but Reid has to coach better and fix the offensive line problems in particular if they are to return.

— Now the question is whether the Bucs can become the first team to repeat since Brady did it in 2003-2004. Only one quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, repeated twice. If Brady wins the next two, he can become the first quarterback to win three Super Bowls in a row and the second to win four in six years. Bradshaw is the only quarterback to do that. It seems crazy to talk about Brady winning two more, but he showed once again you can’t bet against him.

— Besides Reid, another loser was his offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who was bypassed for a head job the last two years. It is not going to be any easier now considering the way the NFL snubs minority coaches.

–A nother loser was Bill Belichick, who went from being called the best coach ever to having questions raised about whether all his success was about Brady. He has a losing record without Brady, and Max Kellerman said on ESPN that Belichick needs to show he can win a Super Bowl without him. Stephen Smith (do I have to use the A?) said he doesn’t question Belichick as a coach but as a GM. He also said he didn’t make Brady feel wanted and that is one of the reasons he left. Don’t know whether that is true, but it is not Belichick’s style to give his players much love. And now Belichick has to counter with young promising AFC coaches, including Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and probably Trevor Lawrence. And Deshaun Watson could stay in the conference.

— The three big winners were coach Bruce Arians, who seemingly retired a couple of times, but showed he is underrated as a coach, and his two minority coordinators, Todd Bowles and Bryon Leftwich. Bowles has been fired once and Leftwich didn’t get an interview this year. They will get noticed now, but no guarantee of a head job. The NFL still has a sorry record on hiring minority coaches.  

Analyzing the Super Bowl LV quarterback matchup

This year’s Super Bowl is being hyped as the best quarterback matchup of all time – Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.

But sometimes the hype doesn’t live up to the reality. This may be the most interesting matchup because it could be a passing of the torch from the best of this generation to probably the best of the next generation.

Still, it doesn’t match Bart Starr vs. Len Dawson in the first Super Bowl or Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach twice in four years in the 1970s to decide the team of the decade.

In those duels, both quarterbacks were at the top of their games. The Drew Brees-Peyton Manning matchup also featured two HOF QBs in their prime. This Super Bowl is like the old Western movie in which the young gunslinger challenges the old gunfighter.

It is amazing that Brady got here at age 43, but he is no longer in his prime. He threw picks on three consecutive second half drives against Green Bay but the Packers handed the Bucs an easy touchdown with a bad defensive strategy at the end of the first half.

And Packers coach Matt LeFleur took the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands on fourth down with just over two minutes left to take a field goal and cut the deficit from eight to five points. He never got the ball back. And he also went for two too early.

You can’t make mistakes like that against Brady.

Mahomes, by contrast, is just reaching his prime at age 25 in his fourth season. A victory will give him two rings in his first four years just like Brady did, and he will then be shooting to match Brady’s record of winning three in his first five years next year.

He also would be attempting to become the first quarterback to threepeat in the Super Bowl era. Green Bay won three in a row twice in 1929-30-31 and 1965-66-67, but only the last two games were in the Super Bowl era.

Also, a win this year would give Mahomes a realistic shot of matching Brady’s record of six Super Bowl wins over the next decade and a half. After all, Brady won three on his first five years and then didn’t win another one for the next nine years and lost twice to the Giants in that span before adding three more.

Mahomes is obviously the better of the two quarterbacks at this point. Which is why two-thirds of the betting action is on Kansas City covering the three-point spread.

Still, the Chiefs have a beat-up line after losing tackle Eric Fisher last week and the Bucs have a good rushing line and can put a lot of pressure on Mahomes.

And being the better quarterback in the Super Bowl doesn’t guarantee success. Walterfootball.com notes that in the Brady era, the better quarterback is only 5-12 against the spread in the Super Bowl.

And Brady lost to Eli Manning twice and once to Nick Foles even though he was the better quarterback. And he beat Kurt Warner in his first Super Bowl when Warner was better at that point.

Brady also didn’t cover the spread against Jake Delhomme or Donovan McNabb although he won both games. And if Mahomes loses this one, he is not likely to challenge the GOAT. He would be trailing Brady 7-1 in Super Bowls rather than 6-2. Winning six more would be more daunting than four more.

So, this is a Super Bowl about what the legacy of both quarterbacks will be.

If Mahomes is going to someday be remembered as good as or even better than Brady, he has to win this game. Brady will still be the GOAT of his time even if he loses but a 6-4 Super Bowl record wouldn’t be as impressive as a 7-3 mark.

It may not be the best quarterback matchup, but this game is still all about Mahomes and Brady.