On Wednesday, NFL.com’s Nick Shook posted an article ranking the league’s 10 most aggressive head coaches.
He did it by taking each coach’s rankings in six different offensive and defensive statistics from this season — fourth-down go rate, blitzing rate, total passes downfield, two-point conversion attempt rate, downfield passing percentage and air yards to sticks — and averaging them to come up with what he called an Average Aggressiveness Score.
Two of the coaches in Shook’s top 10 are facing each other in Super Bowl LV this Sunday: the Kansas City Chiefs’ Andy Reid and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Bruce Arians.
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Average Aggressiveness Score: 12
This one shouldn’t surprise anyone. Reid’s explosive offense loved to push the ball through the air in 2020, finishing fourth in air yards to sticks (+2.6), seventh in total passes attempted downfield, and 13th in downfield passing rate. The Chiefs tied for 21st in two-point attempt rate, while largely gaining fresh sets of downs before fourth, trying for a first on fourth down just 16 times (tied for 23rd in the NFL). And defensively, Reid’s coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, loved to send heat, finishing fourth in blitz rate (38.95%). The Chiefs know they can rack up points and love to apply pressure, daring opponents to stop them on both sides of the ball.
5. Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Average Aggressiveness Score: 14
Arians’ high downfield pass rate was the most predictable outcome in this exercise. The Bucs threw downfield on 35.1 percent of attempts (fifth-highest in NFL), trying to do so a total of 220 times (second-most in the NFL) as part of an offense that is almost always guaranteed to be described as vertical or aggressive. What was interesting, though, is how Tom Brady’s participation — which has long involved getting the ball out quickly and moving the chains — affected Tampa Bay’s air yards to sticks. While throwing downfield at a top-five rate, the Bucs landed near the middle of the league at 14th in AYTS, finishing at an average of +1.9. Compare that with the Chiefs’ +2.6, and you see how the quarterback can affect a style of offense, despite the fact that Tampa Bay and Kansas City’s goals are largely the same. The Bucs are aggressive defensively, too, finishing with the sixth-highest blitz rate at 38.1 percent. The only areas in which Arians isn’t seeking biscuits: fourth down (tied for 30th in attempts) and two-point conversion attempt rate (27th at 3.4 percent).
An analysis that depends on averaging rankings has some built-in problems; by themselves, rankings provide little information about the differences between the numbers behind them, so averaging them can skew the result in unpredictable ways.
In addition, only one defensive statistic is used, so this is really more about offensive aggressiveness — so it’s not surprising that coaches with two of the league’s “clutchiest” quarterbacks are near the top. It would be interesting to see how much these scores changed when Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady became the starters for their respective teams — although in the article’s introduction, Shook highlights Reid’s gutsy fourth-down play-call at the end of Kansas City’s Divisional round game against the Cleveland Browns, which occurred while Chad Henne was in for Mahomes.
Still, this an interesting exercise — one that suggests Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup could be a very entertaining game.