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Andy Reid vs Kyle Shanahan: The battle of offensive geniuses

Young gun Kyle Shanahan meets Andy Reid, the old master

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan is often described as an offensive genius. Saturday he is matched up against the NFL’s OG offensive whiz, Andy Reid.

When Shanahan was born in 1979, Reid was playing offensive tackle at BYU, defending Jim McMahon. Reid took over as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach in 1999 when Kyle was still in college.

Ten guys in Reid’s coaching tree have become NFL head coaches. He has a career W-L record of 195-124-1 (.611) and has improved on that since moving to Kansas City in 2013.

The point is, he’s very good at football, especially on the offensive side, and Kyle Shanahan will have his hands full. While it’s still a preseason game with little or no game planning, this is the dress rehearsal game, number three, where we’ll see probably a half-game of starters on the field.

The amazing thing about Reid’s offensive scheme is how much it keeps changing. Ironically, in this matchup, the young guy is a conservative one, as Kyle Shanahan tinkers with his father’s zone-run-based, massively multiple West Coast offense concepts.

Meanwhile, in his twentieth year as NFL head coach, Reid is being called “the future of football” (Sports Illustrated) and “the NFL’s biggest innovator” (The Ringer). While he was open-minded in Philadelphia, this has been especially true since he signed with Kansas City in 2013.

In 2012, the Eagles fired Reid after a 4-12 season marred by the death of Reid’s son Garrett from a heroin overdose and hired college spread-offense evangelist Chip Kelly. Kelly is back in college now, and Reid seems determined to ensure that no one coaching on Saturdays OR Sundays is more open-minded.

He is adding every successful college concept, from shotgun snaps to jet action, to the Bill Walsh-style West Coast offense at the core of his scheme. (Is there any offensive coordinator in the NFL who is not indebted to the WCO?)

Shanahan, meanwhile, intensifies his father’s scheme by making every offensive player capable of being multi-faceted — including the fullback. He’s not focused on adding twists to the scheme so much as perfecting it, with all backs good at pass-catching, all receivers good at blocking and running after the catch.

Rookie Jalen Hurd is the epitome of this approach — a player who might be a tight end, a running back or a wide receiver — and if the defense isn’t sure what position he’s playing, that’s exactly what Shanahan wants.

Every play might be a run, or a pass—by or to—any skill player. How do you defend that?

If there’s a knock on Reid, it’s that he’s never won a Super Bowl, even though two guys on his coaching tree have (Doug Pederson and John Harbaugh). Part of this is that defensive coaches (such as Bill Belichick) seem to do better in the playoffs, though his protege Pederson won a Lombardi Cup in his second season coaching.

Reid also has a fatal flaw, his poor handling of clock management at the end of games. Bizarrely this has not improved despite his decades of head coaching, and the reason why is a mystery. One longtime Eagles beat writer, who didn’t want his name used, told me that he thinks Reid gets too excited at the end of close games and loses track.

On the flip side, I don’t think Reid gets enough credit for righting one of the NFL’s big wrongs: how often African-American quarterbacks get passed over for NFL starting QB jobs. Between Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Patrick Mahomes, he has had a Black QB for 15 of his 20 NFL seasons, which feels like as much as the rest of NFL coaches combined in all of history. (I haven’t counted though, so don’t @ me.)

I don’t think the hyper-square Mormon coach is crusading for social justice here, just recognizing the top-notch talent that other teams are overlooking. But it’s smart anyway and has been hugely successful for him.

KC’s choice of Pat Mahomes at tenth overall — eight picks after Mitchell Trubisky — was panned at the time. Here’s what USA Today wrote at the time, grading the pick C minus:

Calling Mahomes a project is a major understatement. He’s nowhere near ready to play in the NFL. And, honestly, he may never be. Between his inconsistent accuracy due to poor mechanics, his tendency to bail from clean pockets and his lack of field vision, he’s going to leave as many big plays on the field as he creates. This was a risky pick.

Today that is seen as probably the best value pick of the 2017 draft, and USA Today should be embarrassed.

We won’t get to see a full-on matchup of the two offensive geniuses game-planning against each other — that will hopefully come in a Super Bowl a little bit down the road. But it will still be fascinated to watch two great football minds cross swords.