Punt returns have put Chiefs in a good spot to start winning
Overshadowed by head coach Andy Reid’s offensive creativity and quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ undeniable combination of talent and infectious energy, special-teams coordinator Dave Toub’s units have quietly set the table for the success the Chiefs enjoyed in their first two games.
Despite the fact that the Chiefs have elected to kick off to start both games this season, Mahomes hasn’t stepped foot on the field with his team being behind. In fact, the first-year starter has been given about as ideal of scenarios as possible in the two games this season. He probably owes Toub a dinner or two. Perhaps, judging by the first two games, he should just start a tab.
Tyreek Hill scored the first points of the season on a punt return against the Chargers, spotting the offense a seven-point lead before the first offensive snap. Then at Pittsburgh, De’Anthony Thomas capitalized on a trick play drawn up by the devious mind of Toub, ran past a confused Steelers coverage team for 48 yards, and handed the ball over to Mahomes and the offense 10 yards from the end zone.
“We know that Tyreek brings a lot of attention back there, and they’ll be trying to disrupt him,” Thomas said. “While they’re worried about him, we’ve got a lot of different plays that we run and stuff like that. Sometimes we’ll catch some punt team slipping.”
Toub, who was given the assistant head coach title this offseason, showed that Reid isn’t the only one who can reach into his bag of tricks and put a new spin on an old play.
The former special-teams coordinator for the Bears when Devin Hester regularly gave opposing punt teams nightmares, Toub adapted a trick play he used with Chicago.
The original play actually got called back because of a penalty, but the Green Bay coverage team had no idea what hit them. While Hester went through the motions of having fielded a punt as he drifted to toward the sideline, Johnny Knox actually fielded the kick near the opposite sideline and raced upfield untouched as Hester held the entire coverage team’s attention, aside from the punter.
“Our coach, he’s very creative with schemes and stuff like that,” Thomas said. “You’ve always got to be ready every week to be dialed in to something he’s drawing up off what he’s seen on film.”
Last week, Demarcus Robinson and Thomas lined up in the middle of the field but then darted out toward each sideline just before the snap. The Chiefs had three options covered. If the Steelers kicked high and short towards one sideline, Thomas was there. High and short to the other side, Robinson was there. Kick it deep, and Hill fields it.
“First of all, we’ve got three great returners,” Toub said. “All three of those guys would start at any other team. Put them in the game, and you have them being as safeties like they’re going to block. All of a sudden you pull them out and all of a sudden they’re a viable returner. That’s what we did on that play. We were thinking they’re going to kick away from (Hill), which they did. They kicked a high, short kick.”
Thomas, who forced a crucial fumble on punt coverage late in the win against the Chargers, fielded the high kick in Pittsburgh and bursted up the sideline. At one point, a defender punched the ball out of his hands from behind. However, he was able to corral it and gain 10 more yards. Three plays later, the Chiefs were up 7-0.
“We had Tyreek fake like it was a deep kick when it actually was a short kick, and (Thomas) was standing right there to field it,” Toub said. “We were hoping the coverage would run by, which it did. But you have to have trust in your guys. We have trust that those guys will field and make the right decisions. They have to trust in the scheme, and it worked.”
One week after Hill put fear in the hearts of every special-teams coordinator on the Chiefs’ schedule this season, Toub made a calculated risk in order to take advantage of that fear and the likelihood teams would want to avoid Hill at all costs.
“I just think Dave Toub, Rod Wilson, they do a great job of I guess they call it ‘scheming,’ but when they get in there and study the opponent, they see who we’re going to play on Sundays, Mondays or Thursdays,” Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt said. “They try to figure out, how do I put the players that we have, the people that we’re betting on, guys that are in our room, how to put them best against their best guys. I think they do a great job of doing that.
“They expect us just to be us. Coach Reid says it best, he says let your personality show. Dave does that in the scheme game and how do we do this. Everybody sees Tyreek, what you don’t see is those other 10 guys that are doing something very simple, but very important to get him out or get him going, and DAT (Thomas), same way.”
The Star’s Brooke Pryor contributed to this report.