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Preston: Super Bowl teams loaded with stars but Chiefs coach Andy Reid is the fan favorite | COMMENTARY

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes has become one of the NFL’s most popular players, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid appears to be the fan favorite in this year’s Super Bowl.

This could be one of the best title games in recent years because the San Francisco 49ers have great overall team balance, including a defense that has as much speed as the Ravens’ 2000 championship group.

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But the Chiefs can match any team’s speed, especially with wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and they also have Mahomes, the most feared offensive player in the NFL.

But a lot of NFL fans want Reid to win.

Reid, 61, is in his 28th season in the NFL, his 21st as a head coach. He is No. 6 all time in regular season plus playoff wins with 221, which puts him in a special class but also gives him another distinction.

He has the most wins by an NFL coach without a league championship. Despite being one of the most innovative offensive minds in the game, Reid has been the head coach of only one Super Bowl team and that was in February 2005, when his Philadelphia Eagles lost to the New England Patriots.

Reid went to four other NFC championship games with the Eagles and lost them all, and then fell to the Patriots in the AFC championship game last season with the Chiefs.

There are some people who have labeled Reid a “choker” and say he is too quick to make changes in big games. Maybe that’s true, but to get his teams into position to challenge for titles is remarkable, too.

It’s hard to win games in the NFL, even harder to get into the postseason. Reid appears to be well-liked and respected around the league by players and other coaches, which is another reason to cheer for him a week from Sunday.

Perplexing hiring

Doug Pederson of the Eagles and Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears were offensive coordinators with the Chiefs before they got hired as head coaches.

Eric Bieniemy has been the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs’ high-powered offense the past two seasons, but he has yet to get hired as a head coach.

Nagy and Pederson are white, while Bieniemy is black. I wonder whether Bieniemy’s skin color has anything to do with his not getting a head position the past two years.

Hmmm ...

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy watches warmups before a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 29.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy watches warmups before a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 29. (David Eulitt/Getty)

Running uncertainty

Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t have a definite answer about quarterback Lamar Jackson and how much he might run the ball in next year’s offense.

“That’s a good question, and I’m going to give you a firm, ‘I don’t know yet.’ Is that OK?" Harbaugh said. "Because what we did was pretty darn good, and if we can play that way in games, we’re going to want to.

“Who carries it, how many times they carry it, how much Lamar carries it — all those kinds of things [are up in the air],” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes we drop back and throw, and he’s carrying it a lot because that’s how people play him. So it’s hard to predict that. It’s a great question. We’re going to try to be as unpredictable as we can.”

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As Jackson progresses as a passer he’ll run less. Plus, as he gets older and takes more hits, the Ravens will want to expose him less often on runs, especially on designed option plays outside the pocket.

Jackson is in this offense not just because he can run but also because he struggles throwing the ball downfield, especially outside the numbers. As his arm develops he will run less.

AFC head coach John Harbaugh, left, of the Baltimore Ravens, talks with Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon during a practice for NFL Pro Bowl football game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AFC head coach John Harbaugh, left, of the Baltimore Ravens, talks with Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon during a practice for NFL Pro Bowl football game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (John Raoux / AP)

Playoff difficulties

One of the biggest things Harbaugh has to find out during the offseason is why his teams played so poorly in the playoffs last season and this season.

Rust can be partially blamed in the divisional-round loss this month to the Tennessee Titans because some of the team’s top stars had been off for virtually three weeks. But what was the problem in the wild-card-round loss to the Los Angeles Chargers the previous year?

You can bet Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is looking for answers as well.

“The biggest thing as a coach that you’re going to look at — and I know it’s going to be a broad statement, but then you have to dig in and try to figure it out — is we didn’t play well,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the biggest thing. If we had got into these games and played really well and played our kind of football, not turned the ball over and played winning football, then you could kind of say, ‘OK, well, that’s just football.’ When we don’t play the way we’ve played leading into those games, that’s one you have to look at and try to figure that out.”

Maybe Harbaugh will share his answers when training camp opens in July.

Defensive decisions

The Ravens need to build the front seven in their base defense, and that should make for interesting decisions during the offseason.

The Ravens have to make decisions on two key free agents, tackle Michael Pierce and outside linebacker Matthew Judon. In both cases, the team needs to proceed with caution.

Pierce played well in 2018 but came to 2019 training camp overweight and out of shape. He had a solid season but showed virtually no improvement from the previous year. A new contract for Pierce would have to include weight clauses.

Judon led the team in sacks with 9.5 and was a team leader, but some of his sacks were the result of schemes or pressures devised by defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, not because Judon beat individuals one-on-one.

The problem with the Ravens is that they lack a legitimate pass rusher. Do they risk losing Judon or pay him top dollar?

Proceed with caution.

Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees walks on the field during training camp at Nissan Stadium on Aug. 3, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees walks on the field during training camp at Nissan Stadium on Aug. 3, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Pees’ departure

Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees retired Monday and he goes out after beating his two former bosses, New England’s Bill Belichick and Harbaugh, before losing to Kansas City in the AFC championship game.

Now that’s a way to walk out the door.

Pees will be remembered as one of the best defensive coordinators in recent years, having been one of only eight in NFL history to coach in a Super Bowl with two teams, the Ravens and Patriots. He was a coordinator with the Ravens, Patriots and Titans for a combined 12 seasons and was on staff for two NFL championships.

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