Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Contrasting Football Philosophy on Quarterbacks: Rex Ryan vs. Andy Reid

In football there are some generic, objective truths like you need to score more points than the other team in order to win games, and turnovers are a negative on the team’s potential to win.  The wildest debates though, surround the subjective elements of the game, namely the reasoning behind different coaching philosophy.  The overwhelming reality is that any particular offensive or defensive scheme is not better than another. It is the execution by the team of the plays the coaches draw up that determine whether that strategy will actually work.  Some of the best football minds have never won a Super Bowl Championship as Head Coaches (Marv Levy, Bud Grant, Mike Martz) so Football intellect or philosophy does not equal championships.

For the sake of this discussion, I choose two head coaches who have had some playoff success, but never won a Super Bowl.  This way there is no ambiguity about who has the “best perspective”.  This discussion, again, is factoring in subjective viewpoints of a game that is dependent on eleven guys on a singular play executing their roles in order to gain any positive yards per snap of the football.  If the players cannot execute the game plan, it doesn’t matter how “smart” a coach may be.  Also, having a high Football IQ does not equal great communication skills; some coaches are great analysts on TV but they cannot translate that into sustained coaching success on the field.

Let’s first profile out two head coaches.

-Rex Ryan is a defensive minded Head Coach with a background as Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator before being hired to be New York Jets Head Coach.  While in New York, he captained the ship of teams that went to two AFC Championship games, twice was 30 minutes away from a trip to the Super Bowl.   Now the Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, Ryan has shown the ability to be a great defensive talent evaluator and has overseen teams with some of the top 15 Overall Defense and Running Offenses over his tenure as Head Coach.

-Andy Reid is an offensive minded Head Coach with a background as a former collegiate offensive lineman and Green Bay Packers Quarterbacks Coach before being hired by the Philadelphia Eagles to be Head Coach.  As Eagles Head Coach he oversaw his teams reach five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance.  Now the Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Reid has shown the ability to maximize the abilities of his Quarterbacks and utilize multi-dimensional running backs to orchestrate his offenses.

We start with Rex Ryan’s QB philosophy because of how much his Bills’ starting Quarterback position battle has been publicized.  Over the years, Ryan has shown deference towards having a mobile Quarterback starting for his team.  His reasoning is twofold:

1. Ryan claims it is more difficult from a defensive coordinator’s perspective to prepare for a mobile Quarterback who has designed running and scrambling plays than for a QB who is less mobile and a stationary passer.  Ryan, a former Defensive Coordinator, has said numerous times he hated game planning for running Quarterbacks and that the unpredictability drove him “nuts” during the week leading up to the game.

2. Ryan also believes mobile Quarterbacks combined with an above average running attack puts the opposing defense in a precarious position because they over plan for the running game, leaving holes open for the passing offense.

Rex Ryan has already announced that Tyrod Taylor will get the start at Quarterback for the Bills’ next preseason game.  Taylor, a mobile QB with a solid throwing arm, is being giving the opportunity to take the starting job if he performs well over next couple preseason games.

Now let’s review Andy Reid’s QB philosophy.  Reid in his time as Head Coach in the NFL has only had one preseason in which he had players competing for the starting Quarterback position.  His starting QB in Kansas City is Alex Smith.  Reid’s philosophy is as follows:

1. Reid runs what is known as the “West Coast Offense”, original modern design from NFL Hall of Famer Bill Walsh. Reid’s version is using the passing attack to set up opportunities for his multi-dimensional running back.  He leans heavily on his Quarterback to read the opposing defense to find the open receiver; unlike other offenses that typically have a “Go-To” receiver on each play. His offense is designed with multiple safety valves for the Quarterback to throw to if his Wide Receivers are not immediately open.

2. Reid wants his Quarterbacks to operate from the pocket; if the QB does scramble Reid wants it to be for positive yards instead of scrambling around aimlessly.  In the past, Reid has preferred mobile Quarterbacks as his starters, but he wants to them operate from the traditional “pocket” behind the offensive line and only run as a last resort.  Also, the QB staying in behind the offensive line gives the running back a chance to slip out from behind the line of scrimmage and become a second safety valve for the quarterback in case no other receivers are open.  The longer the Quarterback stays set looking to pass, the more time the called play has to materialize.

Of Reid’s starting Quarterbacks in Philadelphia and Kansas City, five have been mobile (Donovan McNabb, Mike McMahon, Jeff Garcia, Michael Vick, and Alex Smith) so history shows Reid is not against having a mobile quarterback.  But instead of the QB functioning as an offensive weapon, Reid wants his starting Quarterback to be the Captain of the offense and orchestrate the plays as they are called on each down.

Two coaches with different backgrounds and philosophies that utilize the same type of Quarterbacks, both have made playoff runs, both have been fired from their previous jobs, both have changed the culture of the organization at both coaching stops.  So is one of them better than the other? No because both have flaws in their way of thinking, both have been inflexible and adversarial to changing their ways.

The reality is that while Ryan’s offensive philosophy makes a lot of Football sense, he lacks the discernment when judging offensive talent to properly construct the roster needed to execute that type of game plan on a consistent basis.   He also lacks the foresight to realize that certain players may not fit within a certain system or game plan.  Instead he tries to “fit square pegs into round holes” to use an old saying.

The biggest problem with Reid is that he is so committed to his offensive system, that even when he has a very talented running back, he still will pass the ball in situations when running the ball would have better odds of success.  Also, Reid is infamous for his overvaluing players with average or above average skills.  During his time in Philadelphia, he was always drafting and signing players who were specialists but lacked other skills to make them well rounded contributors to the team as a whole.  Or he would draft or sign free agents with above average all-around skills but lacked any special skills that allows the player an edge over opponents.

Lastly, both coaches are below average talent evaluators for players who play positions that are not the coach’s forte.  Reid has a history of passing over more talented players on draft day for those with specialized skill sets on defense; over time almost all of those picks came back to hurt the Eagles roster depth.  Meanwhile Ryan’s eye for offensive talent leaves something to be desired with the game plans his Jets put in place in comparison to those players drafted leaving many people questioning his long term goals.

In the long run, having a mobile Quarterback is not a “good” or “bad” idea; what is problematic is if that player is not utilized properly according to his skill set.  Rex Ryan wanted Tim Tebow to run the Wildcat Offense on random downs when Tebow excelled as a Triple-Threat Option Offense QB.  Andy Reid wanted Michael Vick to use the Passing Game to set up the running attack in Philadelphia when previously Vick had not been successful at reading defenses quickly. 

Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden once stated “Great coaches build the system around their players; average coaches force players into their system.”  Reid and Ryan have garnered success in the NFL, but their stubbornness over the years has led to them to being fired from their previous jobs.  The mobile Quarterback is a great weapon in the NFL and has a history of winning Super Bowl titles (see Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Steve Young, and Roger Staubach as examples). But it still takes having the right talent around that QB, execution of the game plan, and the system in place bringing out the best in the leader of the offense in order to win in the NFL.  So whatever your offensive philosophical preferences, there are many more variables involved to having successful in the NFL than just if your Quarterback likes to run then throw or stay stationary then fire away.

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