Chiefs’ Flawed Special Teams Hurt Them In The Loss To Colts


While many choose to ignore special teams, football is indeed a three-phase game. Sunday, the Chiefs showed the world why football is a three-phase game, losing dramatically after a game full of special teams errors. This has been building for a while, and they were finally exposed.

The Kansas City Chiefs disgustingly lost an embarrassing football game in Indianapolis on Sunday by 20-17. Many factors played a role in their shocking first loss of the season, inconsistent play from the offense, an untimely penalty from Chris Jones after a Nick Bolton sack that would have gotten the defense off the field, and a myriad of questionable personnel decisions and play calling from the coaching staff.

It was an all-around debacle, a well-deserved team loss, but one unit stood out in the worst way.

The Chiefs’ special teams were beyond bad; the team might have found a way to win the game with merely a bad special teams showing. This unit was putrid all the way around, from top to bottom, starting with Andy Reid as the head coach and moving down the line to Dave Toub and eventually the now former Chiefs kicker Matt Amendola.

The woes started early; the Colts sent their punt team on the field after a fantastic three-and-out stop from the Kansas City defense. Moments later, the game’s outcome was altered, and Indianapolis ceased momentum.

Skyy Moore botched the punt, and as you will see in the clip below, let one go that got pinned at the one-yard line. He showed a complete lack of fundamentals and understanding of how to field a punt; to be honest; this isn’t his fault. We have seen Moore return a handful of punts this year, eight to be exact, and he has had some fine returns up until this point. Before this year, he had returned one punt combined in his high school and college career, which was in 2019, as a true freshman at Western Michigan.

Returning punts is an art form that takes years and years to hone. So much of it is just judging where the ball will land and gauging how quickly the defense is flying downfield to make a play. Just because someone is fast (Mecole Hardman) or showed that they are a yards-after-catch machine like Moore does not mean they should be returning punts. It’s an attempt by the Chiefs coaching staff to get Moore involved, but he was not coached well enough by Dave Toub on the fundamentals of returning (reaching out for the ball) or understanding when to fair catch the ball and block out the gunners, which he should have done on the punt that was downed at the one.

As the game progressed, the mistakes mounted, and an early missed point after attempt from Matt Amendola likely gave the Chiefs some cause for concern. This led to one of the most heinous fake field goals attempts you will ever see, and on a fourth and ten nonetheless. The Dolphins were looking for the fake; they had guys sitting at linebacker depth. Tommy Townsend has to get the ball out right away and try to let Noah Gray make a play with his legs. Instead, he pump fakes, lets the defense get into position, and then overthrows Gray for an incomplete pass and turnover on downs. The longer to develop of a fake kick takes, the worse the outcome for the kicking team.

After missing a point after, and seeing his team elect to fake a chip shot field goal Matt Amendola was likely drained of confidence. Lined up for a makeable field goal, he puts it left of the uprights. I don’t want to rip on Ammendola that much; he is what he is as a player and was doing the best he could. I’ll direct that blame to Dave Toub, who I blame for most of this debacle and whose special teams’ philosophies again hurt Kansas City.

Isiah Pacheco has done some nice things in limited snaps as a rookie, but this is massive awareness of situational awareness on this late-game kick-off return. He has to be thinking if the ball is kicked in the play he either has to get it and go down quickly or hit the sideline as hard as he can. The worst thing to do, which he did, is get stuck behind blockers and dance as time ticks away.

A game like this has been on the way for a while now, and when the offense couldn’t produce enough to save the day, it finally came to fruition. The Chiefs have not been good on special teams this year and have not for a while. What I just typed may be confusing for some, so allow me to elaborate. With key cogs like Harrison Butker drilling big kicks, high-level professionals like Dustin Colquitt and Tommy Townsend booming punts, the ever-consistent James Winchester snapping, and the most explosive player in the history of the NFL in Tyreek Hill returning punts, of course, the unit is going to look good and put up points and be highly rated.

Take away the elite talent from those key positions that help people judge how good special teams are, and the unit is far from good, and the aggressive philosophy of Toub is severely outdated.

Taking kicks out of the endzone can occasionally result in explosive momentum-changing plays, but in the NFL today, more often than not, they will result in penalties or turnovers.

The most dangerous plays in NFL games are special teams play. Players run at each other full speed in the open field and create major collisions. This is what gives the league a black eye and sets the game of football back.

To mitigate the ugly injuries and shocking hits, the league has tightened up on enforcing special teams’ penalties. It is rewarding teams for simply taking a knee or letting a punt go into the endzone. For either, the team will get 25 free yards as a touchback, a quarter of the football field. For a team with few offensive weapons, it may be worth the risk to take it out. A team with Patrick Mahomes should return as few kicks and punts as possible, all while having a very conservative approach to special teams in general. If the Chiefs return a ball out of the endzone and get 24 yards, it doesn’t seem like a big deal but remembers that extra yard if the team is stuffed at the goal line. It all adds up.

Matt Amendoal’s brief tenure in Kansas City is over, but it is interesting how he ended up in Kansas City, to begin with. Per reports, the Chiefs had a tryout that resulted in a kick-off. The kick-off resulted in Ammendola winning the job, but the Colts kicker Chase McLaughlin was also in attendance, losing out on the Chiefs’ job but singing with Indy shortly after. A two-for-two day for McLaughlin, including a 51-yard shot, helped bring down the Chiefs, while Ammendola kicked his way out of town. Poetic justice in some ways. Ammendola has a much more traditional style of kick, while McLaughlin has a line drive approach. Knowing how coaches can be in the NFL, it is easy to see why the Chiefs would go for the visually appealing kicker. Dave Toub would have ultimately made the final call to choose a fill-in kicker, so the struggles and failures fell on his shoulders.

Sometime last year, when the Chiefs were amid their offensive woes, I was on a live show on Twitter spaces when a former player and several other analysts and fans told me I was foolish for thinking the Chiefs should take a conservative approach to special teams. They cited meaningless stats: “when the offense isn’t right, you have to find a spark somehow.” In the next game, I watched Byron Pringle fumble his way out of being able to return kicks.

If the Chiefs’ offense isn’t working, they won’t win. Plain and simple as that. You live and die by Patrick Mahomes. You live and die by Travis Kelce. You live and die by your offensive line and wide receivers. Don’t let special teams be the factor in why you win or lose a game. If they help you, great, the best thing that can happen on special teams is nothing. This aggressive 1980s throwback mentality is outdated. The Chiefs don’t have many bad offensive games and will bounce back from this one. The one area where teams can make things even harder on them is special teams, and where smart teams will look to cause the Chiefs’ lower-paid players to make critical mistakes.

The fundamentals, decision-making, personnel, and coaching must get better. The tape is out now, teams see things to take advantage of now, and they will continue trying to exploit the Chiefs unless a serious philosophical change is made. It’s a three-phase game if you let it be.

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