Today, I'm examining and ranking the four offensive play-callers ahead of Sunday's matchups. Let's get to it!
1) Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
Shanahan has come a long way from the days of being "Mike's son." He's now one of the most effective play-callers in the NFL, inserting his own flavor into this 49ers offense. His aim is to establish the run to set up play action and big pass plays, and it all starts with his personnel in the zone-run game, with three backs who are interchangeable (Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida). Their common skills fit perfectly into Shanahan's vision, which creates mismatches against linebackers and gives his team the ability to get it done without a WR1 -- something San Francisco did for the first half of the season. It's not just that Shanahan employs effective zone-running concepts, but he implements so many counters off his base plays, making it hard for the defense to lock in on one person. His scheme also heavily relies on fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle, whose excellent blocking allows plays to flow perfectly.
Then in the passing game, much like Sean McVay does with his offense, Shanahan does a great job of designing play-action concepts that create voids in the defense by using a lot of misdirection and adding wrinkles into conventional-looking formations and plays. It's a brilliant way of keeping the defense on its heels, scheming different counters and wrinkles for his run and pass plays each week. And the biggest factor is that, run or pass, everything looks the same, so the defense is never able to get an early bead on the action.
2) Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Reid is the ultimate smoke-and-mirrors play-caller because he throws in so many different formations and alignments, with guys zig-zagging all over the place. Defenses -- as well as everyone watching in the stands and on television -- rarely know what's coming. Reid's offense derives from his west coast past, but he's gotten away from that a little bit because of who he has at quarterback. Patrick Mahomes is the ultimate X-factor with his ability to go above the X's and O's on every play.
I have to give Reid props because he's had to grow as a play-caller over his 21 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, and it feels as if right now he understands that there's no need to run 15 plays on a drive. Rather, Reid is a "touchdown to checkdown" guy in the sense that he's looking to throw a touchdown on every single play he calls. If it's not a touchdown, then Mahomes can check down for a short gain. Unlike with many other NFL offenses, a 5-yard out is an afterthought to Reid. His offensive mindset is to rip the defense's throat out on every play, and that's what makes him the most dangerous play-caller in the league right now. It's like wide receiver Tyreek Hill said earlier this week, "I feel like nobody in the NFL can guard any of us." That has never felt truer than after last week's Divisional Round comeback win over the Houston Texans, in which the Chiefs erased a 24-point deficit and ended up winning by 20. The offense stalled early on but continued to attack against the Texans' man coverage, scoring touchdowns on seven straight drives(!) en route to victory.
With Kansas City's offensive personnel and Reid's aggressive play-calling (K.C. uses play action on 33.4 percent of dropbacks, the highest figure in the NFL), the Chiefs are playing on a different level at just the right time.
3) Arthur Smith, Tennessee Titans
The Titans offensive coordinator has burst on the scene as a master in designing run plays. His scheme has nice packages that are simple and safe yet insanely effective. Everyone on the field and at home knows Derrick Henry is getting the ball 30 times a game, and defenses still can't stop him. The physical running back has averaged 188.5 rush yards per game in the playoffs with major success when running outside the tackles. According to Next Gen Stats, Henry leads the league in rush yards (1,330) and yards per carry (6.0) when rushing outside the tackles this season (including playoffs).
Smith's simplistic approach with formations and alignments reminds me of Seattle's defense during its Super Bowl run. The Seahawks ran Cover 3 on every play, but switched up their assignments to keep offenses guessing. Smith's offense doesn't have a lot of moving parts, but allows the quarterback to easily read defenses. This was the perfect unit for Ryan Tannehill to slide into midseason because he can decipher the defense, get through his reads and -- based on his experience -- trust himself to go to the right place with the ball. The Titans used play action on 31.7 percent of dropbacks this season, and this is an area in which Tannehill thrived since taking over as the starter. Including the playoffs, Tannehill is averaging 13.2 yards per attempt (1.2 yards more than any other QB) off play-action, while also leading the NFL in completion percentage (77.1) and passer rating (140.1), per Pro Football Focus.
Even though everyone knows Henry will be prominently involved, defenses still don't know what Tennessee's offense will throw at them. That's a tribute to Smith's play-calling.
4) Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
I respect what LaFleur has done in his first year with Green Bay. He's implemented an effective Aaron Jones-led run game and a quick passing game to help take the pressure off Aaron Rodgers. This season, 44 percent of Rodgers' passes have been on quick throws (the ball comes out in 2.5 seconds or less), and he has completed 74.1 percent of those attempts. Both of these elements, along with LaFleur's creative play designs, have made it so Rodgers doesn't have to be heroic in every single game for the Packers to win (like he has in the past). And the Packers still run their fair share of play action, an area in which Rodgers consistently dominates.
LaFleur sits at the bottom in this list because Rodgers has proven to call plenty of audibles, one of which helped the Packers seal the win over Seattle last weekend. Rodgers' experience and ability to extend plays -- and often make something out of nothing -- give LaFleur some leeway when it comes to play-calling; although, this offense seems to have found the happy medium its been seeking for several years. At the end of the day, Rodgers' jersey is often clean. And hey, the Packers are one game away from the Super Bowl.