The Chiefs don’t have many weaknesses heading into the NFL Playoffs, but special teams play should be a concern for Andy Reid and his coaching staff.
Teams looking to identify a chink in the Chiefs’ armor heading into the playoffs aren’t going to find many reasons for hope when examinining either Kansas City’s offense or defense. Instead, any upset-minded team should be looking to take advantage of the team’s mediocre play on special teams.
The Chiefs’ special teams play currently ranks 17th in the NFL in terms of DVOA. This will be the first time in 15 years that Kansas City will fall outside the top-10. 12 of special teams coach David Stoub’s 15 seasons presiding over the unit has yielded a top-5 finish for the group.
Mecole Hardman is no Tyreek Hill
One obvious explanation for the unit’s decline is the NFL rule changes designed to lessen the opportunities for kick return units to make big plays. That coincides with the Chiefs’ decision to take Tyreek Hill out of the mix as a return man. He has yet to return a kickoff this season and there’s no indication that he’ll get that opportunity when the postseason begins.
Hill has also been phased out of his role as a punt returner in Kansas City. He’s only fielded one punt on the year and did not register a single return yard. Mecole Hardman has pulled double-duty as the team’s punt and kickoff returner this year. He did find the end zone on one punt this season, but he’s failed to equal Hill’s overall production from previous seasons.
The change to undrafted free agent punter Tommy Townsend also deserves some of the blame. He’s averaging 45.1 yards per punt on the season but he doesn’t provide great hang time for his coverage unit. That’s made the Chiefs slightly susceptible to dangerous punt returners looking to break off big plays against Kansas City’s special teams unit.
The Chiefs likely have enough talent on offense and defense to overshadow any of their special teams’ mediocrity, but it’s an issue fans should watch as the playoffs begin. One big kick or punt return could be enough to put Kansas City on upset alert in the postseason.