Recent success keeps Chiefs winning on special teams

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have scored a touchdown on special teams in each of their past three games, a fact that tends to obscure a larger truth about the way they operate in the kicking game. The Chiefs win in that phase most weeks, and not just when they score a touchdown.

It’s been that way since Andy Reid was hired as head coach in 2013, and he brought Dave Toub as special-teams coordinator. The Chiefs that season had their very first punt blocked for a safety against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But since then, they have an excellent record in the kicking game: nine touchdowns on returns and none allowed.

“With Dave, I’m partial, but I think he’s the best in the business,’’ said Reid, whose coaching past with Toub dates back to 1987 at the University of Texas-El Paso. “He’s definitely one of the best in the business. He’s done a nice job with the crew that he’s got. He does it in both the return and return coverage games. It’s year-in and year-out that he puts together a good product. And the guys believe in what he’s doing. They buy in to it.

“Dave understands all the different positions. He’s going to play to your strength and try to work on getting you better at your weakness and kind of give you an opportunity to exploit that, to really show that off.”

The Chiefs have scored twice on kick returns from rookie Tyreek Hill in the last three weeks and also scored a 55-yard touchdown by Albert Wilson on a fake punt. The fake was called by Toub, with approval from Reid.

The Chiefs hadn’t scored a touchdown on a kick return in the two seasons prior to Toub’s arrival while allowing three. The Chiefs returned four kicks for touchdowns in 2013, two the following season and then none in the regular season last year.

But Knile Davis delivered the biggest single play of the Chiefs’ first playoff win in 22 years against the Houston Texans when he ran back the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown.

It starts with having a top kick return specialist. From Davis to Dexter McCluster and De’Anthony Thomas, the Chiefs have had good returners in recent seasons. They acquired their best since at least the era of Dante Hall in the early and mid 2000s when they drafted Hill in the fifth round.

Toub at the time compared Hill’s speed and ability as a return specialist to that of one of the all-time greats, Devin Hester. Toub coached Hester for several seasons with the Chicago Bears.

Toub hasn’t been wrong. Hill leads the NFL in punt return average. He has the two touchdowns and two others were called back because of penalties.

But the Chiefs have been strong in coverage, too. They lead the NFL in net punting average because they allow only five yards per return.

The Chiefs build their roster with an eye toward special teams. Players such as D.J. Alexander and Demarcus Robinson have jobs because of their skills in the kicking game.

Other teams do the same thing, but the Chiefs seem to do that better than many other clubs.

“I give the same speech to the guys during training camp that there are certain guys in the room that are going to make the team because of their ability to play on special teams,’’ Reid said. “We’re pretty good there and we’re doing a nice job here so we’ll keep guys now for that role. The words aren’t just idle words. We try to make sure that we look at that part aggressively.”