As we all know, the NFL is a business. Players and coaches alike get traded, cut, fired, acquired, and hired all the time. They’re all contractual employees of the team they work for. With personnel moves from team to team there are relationships that are built between coaches and players. Sometimes it works out for them to be together again, but in other times they may also sit on opposite sides of the field playing against each other.
You may remember Todd Bowles from his time with the New York Jets as the head coach, from which he was fired, but prior to that he was the defensive coordinator for Bruce Arians with the Arizona Cardinals during the 2013-2014 season.
In that season, the Cardinals drafted a young free safety from LSU, Tyrann Mathieu, nicknamed “the Honey Badger.” There were originally a lot of red flags raised with Mathieu coming out of college. He was known as a trouble maker having been dismissed from LSU in the 2012 season due to violation of team rules.
Despite his issues early on in life, he seamlessly flourished in the NFL as a starter on three different teams (Cardinals, Texans, and Chiefs). He was in Arizona from 2013 - 2017, and Bowles was the first coach to get his hands on him in the NFL, helping him become one of the best safeties to play in the league.
The Bucs’ defensive coordinator is now facing his young prodigy for the second time this season. Although he’s not playing directly against him schematically, his insight into Mathieu should help Byron Leftwich and Tom Brady prepare for Super Bowl LV.
When Bowles was asked about his time with Mathieu in Monday’s press conference, he said he made him a better coach:
He’s made me a better coach because he came in a great player. I just tried not to mess him up.
Obviously with that statement the Bucs defensive coordinator thinks highly of the Chiefs’ star safety. At the end of the day though, it comes down to Brady controlling the ball and keeping Mathieu out of scope for his receivers to catch passes down the field and score.
Bowles continued to give Mathieu credit for his leadership and intelligence on the field:
From a leadership standpoint, even as a rookie he was one of the first ones out on the field stretching every day. He took it very seriously. It means a lot to him. One of the smartest players I’ve ever seen play this game – and I’ve been doing it a long time.
Leadership skills are natural for him, it’s not anything made up for him. He’s’ going to fight to the end. He’s very intelligent as a ballplayer. He sees things on the field no one else can see and you couple that with his leadership skills and you’ve got a great player. That’s what he is.
Mathieu is a captain of the Kansas City defense and has worked hard at improving his skill and leadership on and off the field. Just like the Bucs secondary has done, the Chiefs defensive squad has improved significantly this season.
Prior to week twelve, “the Honey Badger” only reeled in two interceptions. He managed to reel in an interception in week twelve against the Bucs, then four more from week thirteen and on through the AFC Championship. Hopefully Bowles can get Leftwich and Brady clued in to arm that offense with the ammo they need to remove Mathieu from the equation as they face off against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.