Year-in and year-out, Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub is one of the league’s best. But over the last couple of seasons, his units haven’t appeared to perform to the standard fans have come to expect.
So Mecole Hardman’s 67-yard punt return for a touchdown on Sunday — which turned out to be an important part of the team’s 33-27 victory over the Miami Dolphins — was noteworthy. First, after having only one in each of the last three seasons, it was the unit’s second return touchdown of 2020. And second, it helped push back on a narrative: that Hardman is no longer interested in returning punts.
“It seemed like he wasn’t into it,” said Toub during his weekly media session on Thursday, “but he was into it. He wants to return. He wants to be successful. It was good to see him be successful — especially at this point in his year, going down the stretch. We want to be hitting our stride on special teams — and I was really happy with the way the guys performed overall as a group.”
For Toub, it was especially gratifying that the play came against the Dolphins.
“Miami is a good special teams unit,” he pointed out. “They were ranked number one coming in, and our guys rose to the challenge. I was really proud of them.”
Toub said that what has seemed like Hardman opting not to return kicks was actually something else: a lack of chances worth taking.
“What’s been going on,” he explained, “is that teams have been kicking away from us. If you go back and look at our tapes, you see a lot of out-of-bounds kicks and sideline kicks. You don’t see anything going down the middle. You have to have a lot of things go right to get a big return or a touchdown.”
And in the case of this particular play, Miami punter Matt Haack made a crucial mistake.
“He mis-hit that ball,” said Toub. “It was a 38-yarder right down the middle. So if you give Mecole that type of kick, he’s going to make you pay. But really, teams have been kicking away from him. They respect him. So it makes it tough.”
But the touchdown required much more than that — including a noteworthy block by practice-squad defensive back Chris Lammons, who had been elevated for the game. But he wasn’t the only one Toub noticed.
“That was a great block by Chris Lammons — but also, Armani Watts made a huge block on Clayton Fejedelem. He was their best cover guy. Really, there were a lot of blocks. Darius Harris made a great block. And there were a lot of no-blocks — smart no-blocks that didn’t touch guys in the back and make the play stand. That’s a huge thing, too. And then Marcus Kemp had the finish block on the punter. He could have laid him out, but decided not to — which was a smart thing, because that could have been called a blindside block.
“And then Mecole does what he does. He caught a short kick, he went after it — did a great job of going after that 38-yard kick in the middle of the field — and was able to hit it on the run. We had a left return called — and once he hits the edge, it’s hard to stop him. He’s got that great speed. I was really happy for him, because the guy’s really been working hard. It’s good to have everybody get a reward like a touchdown.”