Raybon: Should Bettors Trust Kyle Shanahan or Andy Reid in Super Bowl 54?

Raybon: Should Bettors Trust Kyle Shanahan or Andy Reid in Super Bowl 54? article feature image
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Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan

One is known for rocking new Yeezy kicks, the other for rocking old Punt-Pass-Kicks. Which head coach has the edge in Super Bowl 54?

Kyle Shanahan, 49ers

  • Career: 25-25 straight up (SU), 25-24-1 against the spread (ATS)
  • Postseason: 2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS
  • Challenges: 10-of-18 (55.6%)

Shanahan loves himself some playaction. During the regular season, the 49ers employed playaction on 27.4% of pass attempts, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL according to Pro Football Reference.

It proved effective. San Francisco’s 11.2 yards per attempt on playaction ranked third best. When Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t play-faking, he’s hardly passing at all. The 49ers rushed on 52% of their offensive plays, the highest rate in the league this side of Baltimore.

Shanahan’s signature has become stepping on teams’ throats with an unrelenting rushing attack. Up 10-0 in the second quarter against Green Bay in the NFC Championship, Shanahan called six straight runs en route a 37-yard TD drive.

And after Green Bay scored its first TD to cut San Francisco’s lead to 27-7, Shanahan called seven runs and no passes on a 79-yard TD drive that put the 49ers up, 34-7. In the Divisional Round against Minnesota, up 17-10 at the Vikings’ 46-yard line, Shanahan dialed up eight straight runs to march his team to the end zone and a commanding 24-10 lead.

Shanahan’s methodical approach extends beyond situations in which the 49ers jump out to a lead. According to Football Outsiders, the 49ers were the slowest-paced team when trailing by 7 points or more (29.74 seconds between plays), which is particularly notable in regard to the over/under, which has been bet up from 51.5 to 54.5 behind 80% of bets and 86% of dollars wagered at the time of this writing (view live odds here).

Shanahan doesn’t often employ run-pass options, or RPOs (3.3%, 26th), but when he did San Francisco was effective, ranking second in the league with 12.2 yards per play.

What really sets Shanahan apart, though, is his use of heavy personnel:

  • ’21’ (2RB/1TE/2WR): 40%
  • ’11’ (1RB/1TE/3WR): 28%
  • ’12’ (1RB/2TE/2WR): 19%
  • ’22’ (2RB/2TE/1WR): 11%
  • Other: 2%

The 49ers were mocked for giving a four-year, $21 million deal to fullback Kyle Juszczyk, but it has paid dividends. Juszczyk is on the field for almost all of their snaps in ’21’ and ’22’, and San Fran posted top-six success rates from both groupings, according to Sharp Football Stats.

Reasons to believe:

Though Reid is by far the more experienced coach, it’s Shanahan who will be making his second Super Bowl appearance in the last four years — this is Reid’s second appearance, and first since 2005. In case you were wondering, the younger coach is 27-26 SU all-time in Super Bowls. Also, underdogs are 8-4 SU in the last 12 Super Bowls.

Shanahan’s most used personnel grouping, ’21’, aligns with Kansas City’s biggest weakness on defense this season:

  • KC vs. ’21’: 92.4 rating, 5.3 yards/carry
  • KC vs. ’11’: 81.9 rating, 5.1 yards/carry
  • KC vs. ’12’: 85.9 rating, 4.6 yards/carry
  • KC vs. ’22’: 54.5 rating, 3.0 yards/carry

Why you might regret it:

28-3.

Andy Reid, Chiefs

  • Career: 221-142-1 SU, 199-156-9 ATS
  • Postseason: 14-14 SU, 15-13 ATS
  • Challenges: 59-of-125 (47.2%)

Like Shanahan, Reid employed playaction at a high rate (26.4%, seventh most). The Chiefs averaged 8.2 YPA on such plays, also seventh best. But whereas this was a clear boon for Garoppolo, it’s not quite as optimal for Patrick Mahomes, who averaged a 7.9 YPA and a 99.5 rating on playaction compared to 8.5 YPA and a 107.1 rating without playaction.

Reid called RPOs at the at the sixth-highest rate (12.3%). Again, this may not have been optimal. The Chiefs averaged 7.87 YPA on RPO passes and 3.86 YPC on RPO runs compared to 8.15 YPA and 4.20 YPC on non-RPOs.

Reid has long been known to struggle with clock management, and though he has improved somewhat in that area, his team’s below-average ranking in pace when trailing by 7 points or more (25.37, 18th) isn’t doing any favors in shifting the perception.

Reasons to believe:

Reid is undoubtedly one of the most innovative offensive coaches in NFL history. He tricked us into thinking Alex Smith was a deep-passing savant. He’s on the short list of coaches who can say they’ve out-coached Bill Belichick, and he’s done it on multiple occasions.

Though the younger of the two Super Bowl coaches has historically held a slight edge, Reid vs. Shanahan is one of the five biggest age gaps between Super Bowl coaches in NFL history. The older coach won the other four.

In their only matchup as head coaches, Reid’s Chiefs covered as 5.5-point favorites in a 38-27 win in Week 3 of 2018 (albeit with a defense that finished 23rd in DVOA, 21 spots lower in than this season’s mark).

Since 2003, Reid is 37-25-1 ATS with more than seven days to prepare, including 14-10-1 with the Chiefs. He also employs an excellent staff. Steve Spagnuolo has been one of the most adaptable defensive coordinators in the league this season and took the Chiefs from 26th to 14th in schedule-adjusted efficiency, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has seen the team finish top seven in special teams DVOA in each of his seven seasons.

Why you might regret it:

In the playoffs under Reid, the Chiefs squandered a 38-10 lead in against the Colts in 2013, losing 45-44. Four years later, they blew a 21-3 lead to the Titans in a 22-21 defeat. Inexplicably, the NFL’s preeminent game manager couldn’t manage games.

Even with Mahomes, Reid’s squad has displayed an alarming tendency to live dangerously come playoff time. In their last three playoff games, the Chiefs spotted a 14-0 lead to the Patriots, a 24-0 lead to the Texans and a 10-0 lead to the Titans. Deficits like that are light work for Mahomes against defenses like that — none finished better than 13th in DVOA — but the margin for error will be smaller against San Francisco’s second-ranked unit.

The Verdict

Reid’s resume is impressive. But there’s a reason he’s still in search of a Super Bowl title to cement his legacy despite his stellar regular season achievements. The painful truth is that, far too often, he’s been great til he’s had to be great. Or, as Nick Greene of Slate puts it: Andy Reid only seems to make mistakes when everyone is watching.

Reid dwarfs Shanahan in tenure and accolades, but with that also comes a more extensive collection of demons. Shanahan, meanwhile, has one demon. But thanks to a top-flight defense, thunderous running game and a seemingly newfound willingness to expel the forward pass from his call sheet, Shanahan is the better positioned of the two to play exorcist.

Think about it like this: If you’re backing the 49ers, you’re terrified of Mahomes and his explosive collection of weapons. And while you may be traumatized by Shanahan’s 28-3 collapse, it’s hard to be truly scared of a repeat, given how effectively he has protected leads as of late. More and more, 28-3 has the look of an isolated meltdown rather than a permanent flaw, a punchline rendered punchless, a chip-on-shoulder that has been weaponized with a vengeance.

But if you’re backing the Chiefs, the prospect of Reid factoring into the outcome has to make you uneasy. In the back of your mind, you know that despite Shanahan’s 28-3 debacle, you could nevertheless be in trouble if Reid can’t help his team avoid another slow start, or if the game comes down to late-game clock management, or a challenge or a situation where the Chiefs need to pick up a tough yard while keeping Mahomes’ kneecaps intact.

You know that Kansas City has the superior pass offense thanks to employing the best football player on the planet at quarterback, but you also have to worry that Shanahan, who has gone 21-5 with Garoppolo at his disposal, could have enough tricks up his sleeve offensively to act as the equalizer for a team that has the edge in rush offense, rush defense and pass defense.

I could be too early on this just as I was in pegging the 2018 49ers as Super Bowl contenders, but ultimately I think Shanahan has shown growth since his Atlanta days and is now a better in-game decision-maker than Reid, which gives me more confidence in him in this battle of two of football’s top innovators.