There are many culprits to consider when talking about the Kansas City Chiefs’ failure to repeat as AFC West Champions. While injuries may be at the top of most lists, special teams is at the top of mine.
Looking back on the season, it is truly remarkable that Kansas City even had a chance to sniff the playoffs. They finished the season 7-9 and had they been playing in a division with the New England Patriots or Green Bay Packers, their playoff dreams would have been over by Week 6.
Thankfully, the Chiefs don’t play in a division with the New England Patriots. No, KC does business in the mediocre, mediocre West. Denver, San Diego and Oakland all finished a very average 8-8 with the Chiefs trailing just behind. Had KC managed to scrape together one more win, they’d have owned the tie breaker over the rest of their division and would have enjoyed a second consecutive AFC West title and, let’s be honest, a second consecutive early playoff exit.
The game the Chiefs needed, the game they knew they needed when they were playing it, was their 16-13 overtime loss to the Oakland Raiders on Christmas Eve. Even with a win the Chiefs needed some help but a loss would finish them. They were at home. They were coming off a huge upset win over the then undefeated Green Bay Packers.But the Chiefs couldn’t get the job done and their special teams play was chiefly to blame.
KC allowed Richard Seymour to block not one but two field goals in that game. Blocked field goals happen on occasion. After all, the guys on the other team are getting paid too. Still, the fact that the Raiders used the same tactic twice to block KC kicks is inexcusable. As a result, special teams coach Steve Hoffman was relieved of his duties following the season.
While KC’s special teams play in 2011 wasn’t terrible, it certainly wasn’t consistent and consistency appears to be a big focus for new head coach Romeo Crennel.
“As we looked at it, there were some inconsistencies that occurred in all phases of the game and we would like to be more consistent all across the board,” Crennel said in a conference call with reporters this week. “We would like more out of the return game, more out of the coverage unit and then more out of the kick unit that puts points on the board.”
Crennel is right. Despite having two pretty good return men in Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs haven’t returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown since McCluster’s long return against the Chargers in the 2010 season opener.
Crennel thinks new special teams coordinator Tom McMahon will be able to help maximize KC’s talent.
“If we can do a better job all the way around, I think that’s going to be helpful to us. We know that field position is a big part of this game. We have some talent on this team and we want to maximize that talent. I think Tom McMahon and his experience and the way he approaches the game will give us an opportunity to do that.”
Consistency seems to have been a problem for the Chiefs since Todd Haley took over. I noted earlier this year that the team under Haley seemed to be prone to mental meltdowns and blowout losses. This seemed clear to me during the team’s poor 2009 season as well as their AFC West Championship season in 2010. The pattern carried over into 2011 as well. The Chiefs lost three, then won four, then lost four, won one and lost another before Haley was fired.
Ironically, one of Haley’s favorite catchphrases was that he did not want what he called a “yo-yo team.” Haley wanted a team and players that were the same every day and every game. What he ended up with, however, was one of the most inconsistent teams in the entire NFL. A team that, in hindsight, seemed to reflect the personality of their head coach.
If Crennel can bring consistency to all areas of his team, the Chiefs could find themselves back on top of the AFC West in 2012.