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Special teams coordinator Dave Toub isn’t going anywhere

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The Chiefs special teams coordinator isn’t having his best year, but he isn’t the problem some have made him out to be

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

It’s perfectly understandable.

When a team that was expected to contend for the Super Bowl has lost four games by Week 12, we can always expect that people will look for a villain — that one person who is responsible for the team’s misfortune.

“Get rid of that guy,” they’ll say, “and everything will be fine!

Such is the case for the Kansas City Chiefs this season. While he isn’t the only villainous character being identified by some fans and commentators, special teams coordinator Dave Toub is definitely on the list.

And I’m here to tell you: Toub isn’t the problem.

That isn’t to say that Toub and his special teams units are without fault. In his seventh year leading them, Chiefs special teams are inarguably turning in their worst performance of his tenure.

Toub, however, has set a very high bar. Over the six and a half years he’s been leading them, Chiefs special teams are among the NFL’s best.

But we’ll get to all that. First, let’s first address some of the specific complaints being made about Toub.

“Chiefs special teams are horrible! I’m sick of punts being fair-caught at the 8-yard line! High school players know better than to do that!”

Indianapolis Colts vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

It’s true: if you’re a returner standing at your own 8, it’s probably a smarter play to allow the ball to hit the ground and go into the end zone for a touchback; that’s undoubtedly what your high school coach taught you.

But your coach was teaching you to play against high school players — not pros. NFL special teams players are faster and more athletic than anybody covering the punts you were supposed to field as a sophomore — and NFL punters are all capable of putting backspin on a punt. So at that point of the field, letting a punt go is significantly riskier in the NFL; it could easily be downed even closer to the goal line.

How much riskier? I’m not aware of any statistical work that’s been done on the subject. Even in the NFL, it’s probably smarter to let the punt go. But we shouldn’t act as if doing so doesn’t carry some risks of its own — risks that are higher than those you faced as a high school returner.

We also know, of course, that Toub was visibly annoyed with Mecole Hardman after one of these fair catches; we saw it on TV. But what we don’t know is why Toub was mad. For all we know, he thought Hardman should have attempted a return on the play.

Just the same, making a fair catch inside the 10-yard line is still an error that carries a cost of 10-15 yards in field position. That’s significant — but it’s hardly the kind of mistake some have made it out to be.

“Chiefs special teams are awful! I’m sick of every return being called back for a penalty!”

NFL: OCT 06 Colts at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s true: a lot of special teams coverage plays draw flags — and often they’re against the Chiefs.

I wrote about this in October; most of the points I made then still stand. In 2018, the block-in-the-back penalty most commonly called on special teams plays was the sixth most-called penalty in the league. It still is. Last season, the Chiefs had the third-most called against them. This season, the Chiefs still rank third, but are drawing fewer per game than in 2018; the figure has dropped from 0.56 to 0.45.

Here’s what I wrote in October:

My own long-held theory is that while blocking downfield, Chiefs special teams players are coached to operate in the gray areas of the rules — which means that sometimes they’ll give up some yards when the refs see them step over the line. Just like a veteran cornerback who will draw a pass interference penalty rather than allowing a long touchdown, giving up those yards is a relatively small price to pay to help ensure the unit has a chance for (or doesn’t give up) a return touchdown.

So when the Chiefs are called for an illegal block in the back, remember that since special team coordinator Dave Toub’s arrival, the Chiefs are one of only two teams that has not allowed a single kick or punt return touchdown. Meanwhile, the team has scored 11 of them. That plus-11 differential is best in the league — and it isn’t even close. No other team has a differential greater than six.

And Toub’s units still haven’t allowed a touchdown.

Speaking of which...

“Chiefs special teams are terrible! We never score special teams touchdowns any more!”

Gregorian column John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

It’s true: It’s been over a year — since Tyreek Hill’s 91-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1 of last season — since the Chiefs scored a touchdown from a kick return. If they fail to get one this season, it will be first time since 2015 that it’s happened.

But special teams touchdowns — whether they are for or against a team — are outliers. They just happen to be... you know... really noticeable. The main job for a special teams unit is to win the field position battle — and Toub’s units have been terrific at providing shorter fields for the offense and longer fields for the defense. Excluding drives that begin from turnovers, since 2013, the Chiefs are tied for first in starting offensive field position — and are ranked first in defensive field position.

In 2019, however, the unit hasn’t been as good at it. They’re right in the middle of the pack in both offensive and defensive field position. But that doesn’t make them terrible at winning field position this season — only average.

Some have suggested that this is because Chiefs kickoff returners attempt too many returns; it’s true that most NFL kickoffs would become touchbacks if the receiving team simply left them alone. But you can’t improve your team’s offensive field position unless you attempt at least some returns. Toub wants to stay aggressive.

And let’s be fair: if you believe that head coach Andy Reid should take a more aggressive approach with his in-game decisions, you should expect no less from Toub.

“Chiefs special teams are horrendous! They lost the game to the Titans!”

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It’s true: Dave Toub and his players — especially punter Dustin Colquitt and long snapper James Winchester — would love to have a mulligan on a couple of very costly plays in Week 10’s 35-32 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

While I have argued that the game actually turned on Damien Williams’ fumble in the second quarter — which ultimately put the responsibility to win the game on the field goal unit — there’s little excuse for what happened.

And it’s completely fair to blame those failures on Toub.

I can’t remember any other Chiefs losses since 2013 that have turned on those kinds of special teams mistakes. But I sure can remember a number of Chiefs victories that have come from special teams scores during that same period.

And Toub took responsibility for what was clearly a bad game.

“Really the whole game, he was getting a great get-off,” said Toub of Joshua Kalu’s blocked field goal in the Titans game. “I didn’t realize that it was a key that we were giving off. A different key than I thought it was. Going back and looking at it, it was on me. I didn’t see it during the game, and I missed it. They got us. It was a good play by him. We learned from it and we move forward.

“I told the guys this, too, the offense and defense did enough to win the game — we have to finish. We have to be perfect. We have to get that job done. That’s our job to get that done, and we didn’t get that done. We hold ourselves accountable; coaches, players, and certainly Dustin and James. Those guys will get it right.”


Quantifying the performance of special teams isn’t as cut-and-dried as it is for other parts of a football team. But one statistic can give you a very good feel about how special teams are performing: Football Outsiders’ DVOA stat takes field position and scoring into account — and even compensates for the quality of opponent. DVOA statistics are available not only for offense and defense but also for special teams.

Here’s how special teams DVOA lines up for all NFL teams during Toub’s time with the Chiefs.

Special Teams DVOA 2013-2019

Team Avg 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
BAL 5.84%
(A)
(1)
6.40%
(B)
(3)
8.00%
(B+)
(2)
7.30%
(A-)
(1)
4.40%
(B-)
(4)
9.20%
(A-)
(1)
2.90%
(C+)
(6)
2.70%
(B-)
(4)
KC 5.30%
(A-)
(2)
7.80%
(B+)
(1)
6.70%
(B)
(3)
2.40%
(C+)
(7)
7.60%
(A-)
(2)
5.30%
(B-)
(4)
5.60%
(B+)
(2)
1.70%
(C+)
(9)
NE 3.81%
(B)
(3)
6.70%
(B)
(2)
5.50%
(B-)
(5)
3.90%
(B-)
(5)
2.70%
(C+)
(7)
6.30%
(B)
(3)
0.10%
(C)
(16)
1.50%
(C+)
(10)
LARM 3.80%
(B)
(4)
6.30%
(B)
(4)
3.50%
(C+)
(7)
2.40%
(C+)
(8)
7.20%
(B+)
(3)
6.80%
(B)
(2)
-0.20%
(C)
(17)
0.60%
(C)
(13)
PHI 2.24%
(C+)
(5)
-2.80%
(C-)
(25)
8.30%
(A-)
(1)
1.90%
(C+)
(10)
7.80%
(A-)
(1)
0.90%
(C)
(16)
0.20%
(C)
(15)
-0.60%
(C)
(21)
IND 1.51%
(C+)
(6)
-0.10%
(C)
(17)
3.30%
(C+)
(8)
0.50%
(C)
(16)
4.10%
(B-)
(5)
3.70%
(C+)
(8)
0.90%
(C)
(12)
-1.80%
(C-)
(24)
CIN 1.50%
(C+)
(7)
1.30%
(C)
(12)
4.20%
(B-)
(6)
2.20%
(C+)
(9)
-2.70%
(C-)
(28)
-2.40%
(C-)
(21)
2.60%
(C+)
(7)
5.30%
(A-)
(1)
MIN 1.46%
(C+)
(8)
3.90%
(C+)
(6)
3.00%
(C+)
(10)
3.90%
(B-)
(4)
1.40%
(C+)
(9)
-0.90%
(C)
(18)
-0.90%
(C)
(19)
-0.20%
(C)
(18)
DAL 1.17%
(C+)
(9)
3.50%
(C+)
(8)
0.90%
(C)
(13)
1.80%
(C+)
(11)
1.40%
(C+)
(10)
4.60%
(B-)
(7)
-2.10%
(C-)
(23)
-1.90%
(C-)
(25)
DET 1.00%
(C+)
(10)
-0.50%
(C)
(20)
-5.70%
(D)
(31)
1.00%
(C)
(13)
3.70%
(C+)
(6)
5.10%
(B-)
(5)
-0.90%
(C)
(20)
4.30%
(B+)
(2)
SEA 0.19%
(C)
(11)
4.80%
(B-)
(5)
-1.70%
(C-)
(19)
4.20%
(B-)
(3)
0.50%
(C)
(13)
-2.00%
(C-)
(20)
-2.20%
(C-)
(24)
-2.30%
(D+)
(27)
PIT 0.19%
(C)
(12)
0.60%
(C)
(16)
0.90%
(C)
(12)
0.10%
(C)
(18)
0.00%
(C)
(16)
3.10%
(C+)
(9)
-3.50%
(D+)
(27)
0.10%
(C)
(17)
ATL 0.06%
(C)
(13)
-0.10%
(C)
(18)
3.00%
(C+)
(9)
-2.10%
(C-)
(22)
2.40%
(C+)
(8)
-1.20%
(C)
(19)
1.40%
(C+)
(10)
-3.00%
(D)
(30)
SF 0.06%
(C)
(14)
3.70%
(C+)
(7)
-3.00%
(C-)
(24)
-3.60%
(D+)
(27)
-0.20%
(C)
(17)
2.90%
(C+)
(11)
0.30%
(C)
(14)
0.30%
(C)
(16)
NYJ -0.09%
(C)
(15)
2.10%
(C+)
(10)
-0.70%
(C)
(16)
-2.90%
(C-)
(25)
-6.80%
(D-)
(31)
-3.20%
(C-)
(25)
8.10%
(A)
(1)
2.80%
(B-)
(3)
JAX -0.24%
(C)
(16)
2.60%
(C+)
(9)
-3.60%
(C-)
(26)
-0.90%
(C)
(20)
-2.50%
(C-)
(25)
-2.80%
(C-)
(24)
4.40%
(B)
(4)
1.10%
(C+)
(12)
NO -0.24%
(C)
(17)
-2.50%
(C-)
(24)
1.60%
(C+)
(11)
-3.20%
(C-)
(26)
-2.60%
(C-)
(27)
1.20%
(C)
(15)
1.70%
(C+)
(9)
2.10%
(C+)
(7)
NYG -0.63%
(C)
(18)
-5.00%
(D+)
(28)
-0.60%
(C)
(15)
5.40%
(B)
(2)
0.20%
(C)
(15)
-7.50%
(D)
(32)
4.50%
(B)
(3)
-1.40%
(C-)
(23)
BUF -0.69%
(C)
(19)
-5.60%
(D+)
(30)
6.20%
(B)
(4)
1.50%
(C+)
(12)
-2.40%
(C-)
(23)
2.90%
(C+)
(10)
-5.10%
(D)
(32)
-2.30%
(D+)
(26)
CAR -0.83%
(C-)
(20)
1.00%
(C)
(13)
-5.50%
(D)
(30)
-2.40%
(C-)
(23)
-2.50%
(C-)
(26)
4.70%
(B-)
(6)
-0.20%
(C)
(18)
-0.90%
(C-)
(22)
CHI -0.86%
(C-)
(21)
2.10%
(C+)
(11)
-3.10%
(C-)
(25)
-1.20%
(C-)
(21)
-0.60%
(C)
(18)
-2.40%
(C-)
(23)
-3.20%
(D+)
(26)
2.40%
(B-)
(5)
GB -0.91%
(C-)
(22)
-0.40%
(C)
(19)
-2.30%
(C-)
(22)
0.40%
(C)
(17)
-1.80%
(C-)
(20)
1.30%
(C)
(14)
-4.10%
(D+)
(29)
0.50%
(C)
(14)
MIA -1.19%
(C-)
(23)
-2.30%
(C-)
(23)
-6.20%
(D)
(32)
-2.70%
(C-)
(24)
1.00%
(C)
(12)
2.60%
(C+)
(12)
-1.10%
(C-)
(21)
0.40%
(C)
(15)
CLE -1.19%
(C-)
(24)
1.00%
(C)
(14)
0.60%
(C)
(14)
0.70%
(C)
(15)
-2.50%
(C-)
(24)
-5.10%
(D+)
(27)
-4.20%
(D+)
(30)
1.20%
(C+)
(11)
OAK -1.41%
(C-)
(25)
-7.10%
(D)
(31)
-1.70%
(C-)
(18)
-0.10%
(C)
(19)
1.10%
(C)
(11)
-0.20%
(C)
(17)
-1.60%
(C-)
(22)
-0.30%
(C)
(19)
TEN -1.56%
(C-)
(26)
-3.20%
(C-)
(26)
-1.80%
(C-)
(20)
-3.80%
(D+)
(28)
-1.00%
(C)
(19)
1.60%
(C+)
(13)
0.80%
(C)
(13)
-3.50%
(D)
(32)
WAS -2.04%
(C-)
(27)
-12.00%
(F-)
(32)
-5.40%
(D+)
(29)
3.20%
(C+)
(6)
0.40%
(C)
(14)
-2.40%
(C-)
(22)
2.50%
(C+)
(8)
-0.60%
(C)
(20)
TB -2.36%
(D+)
(28)
-1.50%
(C-)
(22)
-0.80%
(C)
(17)
-4.70%
(D)
(30)
-2.00%
(C-)
(21)
-5.50%
(D+)
(29)
-4.10%
(D+)
(28)
2.10%
(C+)
(6)
HOU -2.97%
(D+)
(29)
-5.10%
(D+)
(29)
-3.90%
(C-)
(28)
-5.70%
(D-)
(32)
-7.00%
(D-)
(32)
-4.50%
(D+)
(26)
3.50%
(B-)
(5)
1.90%
(C+)
(8)
DEN -3.03%
(D+)
(30)
-1.10%
(C)
(21)
-3.70%
(C-)
(27)
0.70%
(C)
(14)
-2.30%
(C-)
(22)
-7.40%
(D)
(30)
-4.20%
(D+)
(31)
-3.20%
(D)
(31)
ARI -3.29%
(D)
(31)
-4.00%
(C-)
(27)
-2.20%
(C-)
(21)
-4.00%
(D+)
(29)
-6.00%
(D)
(30)
-5.50%
(D+)
(28)
1.00%
(C)
(11)
-2.30%
(D+)
(28)
LACH -3.57%
(D)
(32)
0.80%
(C)
(15)
-2.70%
(C-)
(23)
-5.30%
(D)
(31)
-4.70%
(D+)
(29)
-7.50%
(D)
(31)
-2.80%
(C-)
(25)
-2.80%
(D+)
(29)

This shows us that on average, only one special teams unit has performed better than the Chiefs’ since Toub arrived in 2013. It also reveals that while Toub is having his worst season with the Chiefs, his unit’s performance this season is still above average — certainly not “horrible,” “awful,” “terrible” or “horrendous.” Furthermore, we see that Toub has already recovered from another such season; the unit was just above average in 2015 but followed that performance with three strong seasons.

It’s understandable to look for a villain when your favorite team isn’t doing what you expected it would. But while Dave Toub deserves criticism for his unit’s performance this season, it would be a big mistake to send him packing because of it.