There are certain coaches in the NFL that make for sleepless nights for other coaches.
Former Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham matched wits against Mike Shanahan with the Broncos for a decade. But before every game between the teams, Gunther’s already limited sleep time was chopped even more because he was trying to plot and predict what new offensive twist Shanny would hit him with. No matter what had happened in the past, there was always a previously unseen wrinkle. It drove Cunningham crazy trying to guess, more than it bothered him trying to figure out how to defense the move.
Buffalo Bills assistant head coach/special teams Bobby April (left) is one of those coaches. He arrives at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday with what some people in the league think are the best kicking game units in the game. April is a guy who always comes up with new fakes, new returns and previously unseen wrinkles.
And, he’s had 10 days to prepare for the Chiefs.
“They’re a well-coached group that will throw a lot at you and they’ve had a couple of extra days to prepare,” said Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. “I’m sure they’ll have something for us and in a lot of different areas. He’s seen everything there is and you see it on the tape and through the years.
“You’ve got to be prepared and we’re working on it all the time. You can’t just look at two or three games to get ready for this special teams group. You have to look at two, three or four years ago.”
NFL writer Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News has issued his special teams rankings for many years. Over the past decade, it’s become the standard by which people in the game judge who is getting it done on special teams and who is not. He takes about 20 statistical categories and ranks the teams one through 32 based on their numbers for the season. Gosselin then adds up all the numbers and comes up with his rankings.
Last year April and the Bills were No. 1 in the league. The year before Buffalo was fourth, in ‘06 they were third and in ‘04-’05 they were No. 1. Nobody comes close to matching that type of consistent production in all areas of the kicking game.
“They are the best in the league,” said WR Terrence Copper, the Chiefs leading tackler on special teams so far this season with 12 total tackles. “They have good kickers, returners and coverage guys. They all play like every snap of special teams is important. We have to match that intensity.”
Last year, the other special teams coaches in the league voted April the league’s best kicking game coach. It’s the second time in four years that he won that honor.
“Everybody has to have a certain skill to get an NFL uniform,” April said this week. “But when you have guys who will study on their own, will work hard and prepare on and off the field and bring that certain toughness and desire, those are intangibles that make a difference. That’s why we have been so good.”
In the mold of the late Frank Gansz, April likes to create an espirit d’corps within his kicking teams. He gives each unit a name, all based on military groups: the Gurkhas, Seals, Delta Force, Rangers, Armor and Cavalry. For instance, his kick return team is called “The Seals” named after the Navy Seals.
Last year, Bills punt returner Roscoe Parrish returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown in the season opener. The man who made the block in front of Parrish as he caught the ball was LB Jon Corto. By the time Parrish reached the end zone, the final block was thrown by Corto.
“That’s all part of who we are. That’s all part of why we’re good,” April said. “You can’t really coach a guy to do that. He’s got to have that constitution within him; a guy did it strictly on hustle.”
In six seasons with the Bills, April units have done amazing things. From 2004-09, they are third in kickoff return average (24.0 yards), first in punt return average (11.6 yards), first in kickoff coverage (20.2 yards), second in punt coverage (7.3 yards), sixth in punting average (43.9 yards), third in net punting average (38.7 yards) and second in kicking game returns for TD with 11. The Bills FG percentage of 85.2 percent is fifth in that time frame.
Here’s how the Bills units break down, and what they’ll face with the Chiefs on Sunday:
KICKOFF COVERAGE: the Bills are allowing an average kickoff return of 22 yards, with a long return of 52 yards and no touchdowns allowed. That makes them 13th in coverage. The Chiefs are 20th in kick returns, averaging 22.5 yards with one touchdown.
PUNT COVERAGE: Buffalo is allowing an average return of 7.2 yards, with a long return of 52 yards and no touchdowns. That’s good enough to have them ranked ninth in the league. The Chiefs are 24th on punt returns with an average of 6.6 yards per return, with a long of 44 yards and no touchdowns.
KICK RETURNS: the Bills are averaging 24 yards a return, with a long of 71 yards by RB Fred Jackson, with no touchdowns. They are No. 10 in the league. The Chiefs kick coverage unit is allowing an average return of 21.6 yards, with a long return of 38 yards and no touchdowns. They are No. 10 in the league for kick coverage.
PUNT RETURNS: Buffalo’s average return is 7.2 yards, good for No. 23 in the league. The long return is 31 yards by Parrish (right) with no touchdowns. The Chiefs punt cover unit gives up an average return of 6.9 yards, with a long return of 44 yards and no touchdowns. They are No. 7.
PUNTERS: Dustin Colquitt and Bills counterpart Brian Moorman are among the top half-dozen punters in the league. Moorman averages 46.9 yards a punt, compared to Colquitt’s average of 45.8 yards. But Colquitt’s net average of 41.4 yards is better than Moorman’s 40.7 yards.
KICKERS: Ryan Succop is the best rookie kicker in the league for the ‘09 season making 18 of 22 field goals and all 18 PAT kicks. Buffalo K Rian Lindell is a 10-year veteran, who has made 20 of 23 FGs and all 10 of his PAT kicks.
This has not been a top-level performance season for the Bills. A rash of injuries has scrambled the kicking game units over the year. There are 14 players on the injured-reserve list, including CB Leodis McKelvin who was one of the best kick returners in the league; he had a 98-yard TD return last season.
There were troubles in some early games this year as McKelvin fumbled a kickoff that helped set up the winning touchdown for the Patriots in the season opener (25-24). Parrish muffed a punt and that cost the Bills a victory over the Browns (6-3).
But they’ve had more good contributions:
- Against Carolina, the Bills punt coverage held the Panthers to two yards a return and on kick returns held them to 11.3 yards.
- In the first game of the season against the Jets, they held New York to 0.3 yards per punt return and 19 yards per kick return.
- The Bills only TD against New Orleans came on a fake field goal play, as holder Moorman threw a 25-yard TD pass to DE Ryan Denney.
It will be a challenge for Chiefs special teams coach Steve Hoffman and his crew. The kicking game has been the most consistent of the three phases of the game during 12 games. There have been some mistakes, but there have been big and important plays pulled off, including touchdowns on a blocked punt and a kick return.
Their biggest test of the season comes on Sunday.
“We’ve got to help our team with a big play,” said Copper. “And against this team (Buffalo), we have make sure they don’t hit us with a big play. They are going to have something new, we know that. We have to stay on our toes and be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
TONY DUNGY GOT INVOLVED IN THE LARRY JOHNSON SITUTATION
Interesting story in Friday’s New York Times about former Colts head coach Tony Dungy and what he’s been up to since he left the team. Here’s the link.
One of the things Dungy touched was the situation with Larry Johnson and his suspension and then release from the Chiefs. From the story:
“Several weeks ago, at the behest of Larry Johnson’s father, Dungy spoke to Johnson, the troubled running back, after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis sought Dungy’s opinion before the Bengals signed Johnson.”
I wonder if Dungy checked in with his old buddy Herm Edwards about L.J.?
SIGNINGS, INJURIES & MOVEMENT AROUND THE LEAGUE
- BENGALS – DT Domata Peko and RB Bernard Scott will not play in Sunday’s game against the Vikings.
- BILLS – placed OT Demetrius Bell on the injured-reserve lists (knee); promoted OT Andre Ramsey from the practice squad.
- CHARGERS – out of Sunday’s game against the Cowboys are DE Alfonso Boone and C Nick Hardwick.
- COLTS – will be without RB Donald Brown, CB Aaron Francisco, WR Anthony Gonazlez and K Adam Vinatieri for their game on Sunday against the Broncos.
- COWBOYS – ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Chargers are TE Martellus Bennett, OT Marc Colombo and S Ken Hamlin.
- EAGLES – RB Brian Westbrook will not play on Sunday against the Giants.
- FALCONS – out of Sunday’s game against the Saints are CB Chris Houston and TE Justin Peelle.
- JAGUARS – released CB Kennard Cox; promoted DE Chris Harrington from the practice squad.
- JETS – CB Dwight Lowery, QB Mark Sanchez and G Robert Turner will not play against the Buccaneers ion Sunday.
- LIONS – will be without TE Casey Fitzsimmons for Sunday’s game against the ravens.
- PACKERS – ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Bears is lB Jeremy Thompson.
- PANTHERS – will be without DE Tyler Brayton and QB Jake Delhomme for Sunday’s game against the patriots.
- RAIDERS – out of Sunday’s game against the Redskins are G Robert Gallery and WR Nick Miller
- RAMS – will be without OT Jason Smith and QB Marc Bulger for Sunday’s game against the Titans.
- REDSKINS – CB DeAngelo Hall, DT Albert Haynesworth and RB Mike Sellers will not play Sunday against the raiders.
- SAINTS – out of Sunday’s game against the Falcons are LB Scott Fujita and CB Jabari Greer.
- TEXANS – DE Tim Bulman has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Seahawks.
- TITANS – out of Sunday’s game against the Rams is DT Jason Jones.
FROM THE PAGES OF CHIEFS HISTORY
On December 12, 1965, the Chiefs lost to the Buffalo Bills 34-25 at the War Memorial Stadium. With 40,298 fans in the stands on a cold winter day, the Chiefs had more offensive yards than the Bills, but turned the ball over five times. QB Len Dawson threw three touchdowns passes, going 67 yards to TE Fred Arbanas, 19 yards to WR Otis Taylor and 22 yards to RB Bert Coan (right). Arbanas caught three passes for 94 yards.
On December 12, 1970, the Chiefs lost to the Raiders 20-6 in a Saturday afternoon game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It was an ugly day for the Chiefs offense as the Raiders dominated the game. The Len Dawson-led unit managed just 121 total yards on 38 plays as Oakland dominated the time of possession battle. Jan Stenerud had FGs of 20 and 40 yards to bookend the scoring. In between, the Raiders got a pair of George Blanda FGs, a Marv Hubbard five-yard TD run and a 36-yard scoring pass from Daryle Lamonica (left) to Fred Biletnikoff. Dawson was just six of 12 for 80 yards. Defensively, Jim Lynch had an interception and the Chiefs got three sacks.
On December 12, 1971, the Chiefs beat the Oakland Raiders 16-14 in front of 51,215 fans at Municipal Stadium. On a cold, crisp Kansas City afternoon, K Jan Stenerud kicked a 10-yard FG with 1 minute, 34 seconds to play to give the Chiefs the victory. The Raiders led 14-13 after RB Marv Hubbard’s one-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter and K George Blanda’s PAT. The Chiefs had a first quarter TD pass from QB Len Dawson to WR Otis Taylor of 29 yards and Stenerud had FGs of 14 and 33 yards. Taylor finished the day with eight catches for 113 yards. CB Jim Marsalis (right) and S Jim Kearney both had interceptions of Blanda, who replaced Daryle Lamonica.
On December 12, 1976, the Chiefs beat the Cleveland Browns 39-14 at Arrowhead Stadium. With a crowd of 34,340 watching, RB Ed Podolak had quite a day. He ran 29 times for 137 yards and three TD runs. Podolak added four catches for 71 yards. QB Mike Livingston started for the Chiefs, but went out of the game early in the second quarter after he was sacked by the Browns defense. Tony Adams replaced him and had a good afternoon, hitting 15 of 29 passes for 201 yards and a 10-yard TD pass to TE Walter White. The Chiefs honored G Ed Budde (left) afterwards with the game ball, as he played his final game with the Chiefs.
On December 12, 1982, the Chiefs lost to the Oakland Raiders 21-16 before 26,307 fans at Arrowhead Stadium. It was a 35-yard touchdown pass from Oakland QB Jim Plunkett to rookie WR Calvin Muhammad that proved to be the winning points with 25 seconds to play in the game. The Chiefs had gone up 16-14 on a one-yard TD run by FB Billy Jackson. The other points were three FGs from K Nick Lowery. Plunkett also threw a pair of TD passes to TE Todd Christensen (right) of four and eight yards. Oakland WR Cliff Branch caught five passes for 111 yards. TE Al Dixon led the Chiefs in receiving with six catches for 102 yards.
On December 12, 1993, the Chiefs lost to the Denver Broncos 27-21 at Mile High Stadium. It was 10 points in the fourth quarter that gave the Broncos the victory with 75,822 fans watching. The key for Denver was the combination of QB John Elway and TE Shannon Sharpe, who connected on three touchdown plays, of six, nine and 14 yards. K Jason Elam added two field goals, including one from 53 yards. The Chiefs scores came on a pair of Joe Montana TD passes, for 11 yards to TE Jonathan Hayes and 29 yards to WR Willie Davis. RB Marcus Allen scored on a four-yard run. The KC defense had interceptions from CB Albert Lewis and S Charles Mincy. DE Neil Smith (left) had two sacks of Elway.
On December 12, 1994, the Chiefs lost to the Miami Dolphins 45-28 in a Monday night game at Joe Robbie Stadium. QB Dan Marino and RB Bernie Parmalee led the Miami offensive explosion as they scored 31 points in the second half to run away with the victory. Marino threw a pair of touchdown passes, one to Parmalee, and the quarterback also scored on a four-yard run. Parmalee added a 47-yard TD run. Chiefs QB Steve Bono threw two TD passes to WRs J.J. Birden and Willie Davis. Also for the Chiefs, RB Jon Vaughn returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Birden had 10 catches for 131 yards. Bono was 33 of 55 for 314 yards, but he also threw three interceptions, one that was returned for a TD by CB Troy Vincent. Parmalee finished with 127 yards on 19 carries.
On December 12, 1999, the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in a Sunday night game at Arrowhead Stadium. It was Pete Stoyanovich’s 38-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that gave the Chiefs a victory in front of a crowd of 78,932. It was a wild fourth quarter, as the score was tied 21-21 at the start of the period before the KC defense provided a score. DE Eric Hicks picked up a fumble and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. But the Vikings answered right back when WR Randy Moss returned a punt 64 yards for a TD that evened the score again and set up the big kick from Stoyanovich. The Chiefs got two earlier touchdowns from TE Tony Gonzalez, who caught passes of nine and 13 yards from QB Elvis Grbac (right). RB Donnell Bennett scored on a two-yard run. Grbac finished the game hitting 19 of 29 for 215 yards and those two TDs. The Chiefs defense forced four fumbles and had four sacks of Minnesota QB Jeff George, two by LB Derrick Thomas.
SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY …
Born on December 12, 1967 in Passaic, New Jersey was G Dave Szott (right). He was selected in the seventh round of the 1990 NFL Draft out of Penn State University. Szott played 11 seasons with the Chiefs (1990-2000), playing in 143 games, with 135 starts. He stepped into the left guard spot as a rookie and was there for a decade, playing next to fellow ‘90 draft choice Tim Grunhard and veteran LT John Alt. Szott was named All-Pro in 1997. He finished his career with a season in Washington and then two seasons with the Jets. Szott lives with his family in New Jersey and does work with the Jets as their team minister.
Born on December 12, 1952 in Kansas City, Kansas was QB David Jaynes. He was selected in the third round of the 1974 NFL Draft out of the University of Kansas. Jaynes played in just one game for the Chiefs in that rookie season, throwing two incomplete passes and running once for no gain.