When Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub first came to the team in 2013 after nine seasons doing the same job with the Chicago Bears, Kansas City special teams were immediately among the league's best, repeatedly scoring touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns.
Through 2016, his units scored nine touchdowns — while allowing none by opposing teams. Starting in 2017, the rate of kickoff and punt touchdowns began slowing down. Many observers started to say that Toub had lost his edge — that he was no longer running the league's best unit.
But that was only true if you focused exclusively on those highly-visible plays. The primary job of a special teams unit is to create favorable field positions for the team's offense and defense — and throughout his time in Kansas City, Toub's players have remained among the league's best.
According to Football Outsiders' special teams DVOA metric, they have been ranked among the league's top five in seven of Toub's nine seasons — and in the top 10 in eight of them. Only in 2020 — when Chiefs special teams were ranked 17th — have Toub's players been outside of the league's best.
Even if you just want to focus on special-teams touchdowns, Toub's units have remained among the league's finest. Until 2020, no opponent had ever scored by returning a kickoff or punt against Toub's Chiefs — and by then, his players had collected 14 of their own. That 13-touchdown differential is more than twice that of any other NFL team during that period.
So when Toub met with reporters on Thursday, it must have been especially gratifying not to be asked questions about a player's incorrect fair-catch decision or a missed extra point. His unit — currently ranked first in special teams DVOA — was spectacular during Sunday's 13-7 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
His players recovered a muffed punt and downed it at the Green Bay 10-yard line, which led to a Harrison Butker field goal. (On a cloudy day with 12 mph winds at Arrowhead, Butker was perfect on four attempts — including a 55-yarder). And then second-year undrafted free agent punter Tommy Townsend was named the AFC's special-teams player of the week after landing five of his six punts inside Green Bay's 20-yard line, finishing the game with an average of 56.8 yards per punt — the highest net punting average on five or more punts in any game since 2018.
"I was really happy," Toub told reporters. "I mean, they did a great job. They played extremely hard. We made plays when the plays were there. Tommy punted great. Coverage was really good. The gunners played great... It was impressive. I liked the way they performed."
Toub was even willing to characterize it as one of the best games one of his units has had over his 21-year career as an NFL special-teams coach.
"I'd say it was one of our better ones," he acknowledged. "We had some good ones in Chicago with Devin Hester in the return game part of it. But this was more punt coverage [and] kickoff coverage — we didn't get a lot of opportunities in the return game — so I was really pleased."
Toub said that Townsend's performance was partly due to seeking some help in getting the mental part of his game under control.
"I know he works with somebody — and it's really helping him," he noted. "I noticed that he transferred over what we've been seeing in practice to that game — I mean, that was really impressive. We've seen these bomb punts in practice — a lot — [so] it was a matter of him putting it all together in a game."
Toub thinks that we might have seen such a performance earlier in the season — but Townsend simply hadn't had very many chances; going into Sunday's game, no NFL punter had punted less often.
"He did it in a preseason game this year — but then in the first couple of games, he just wasn't getting a lot of opportunities," said Toub. "[But on Sunday], we had six punts — and all six of them were good. That was impressive. That was probably one of the better punting performances I've ever seen."
Without reporters quizzing him about the circumstances of a time out before a field goal, Toub was even able to expand a bit on Townsend's day. He took the opportunity to explain how Kansas City's gunners — the two players who line up wide of the punting formation — played a role in Townsend's success on Sunday.
"If we get eight guys in the box — meaning they're going to rush us, try to hold us up inside — those guys are singled up," he explained. "We feel that if they're singled up, they can win every time. You can't say that about every gunner, but our gunners can win the single. It forces teams to try and double them — and if they double them, now we've got six guys in the box, and our inside guys do a better job."
Toub said that those kinds of circumstances are part of what helps the punter make those kicks so well.
"The combination of Tommy hitting the ball deep, hanging it — and then our gunners singled up out there — they were there [at the returner], waiting on the ball. You can see how anxious the returners get; they're [thinking], 'Where's the ball?' and feel the guy coming on. That's why the ball was put on the ground a couple of times."
Toub also wanted to expound on why Butker — whom he's previously said could put a kickoff out of the end zone every time — sometimes doesn't.
"If you have kickoff coverage guys like we have — we have good personnel — and you have a kicker who can really hang the ball, the advantage is in our favor," he explained. "We can use it as a weapon — so that's what we do. We kick it high [to] right at the goal line, where they have to field it; if they let it drop and it hits at the one and goes in the field of play, now they're scrambling to go get it.
"So you keep it close. It puts the [returners] in a bind where they have to field it. The hang time — coordinated with the coverage — weighs it in our balance."
But even then, Toub said that such a strategy only sometimes makes sense.
"Right now, we're doing it a lot more," he admitted. "It depends on who you play — or what the situation is, too. I mean, if you can't gain anything from it — if all you need is a start at the 25 — then you kick a touchback, take the ball at the 25 and play defense. But if you're trying to gain field position — trying to get them inside the 20, trying to create something for our defense — we're going to try to do that every time."
Still... even after such a big game for his players, Toub wasn't interested in a lot of glory. He knows from his long career that what he and his players do tends to stay the shadows.
"We did our job," he said simply. "I mean, that's really what it comes down to. We're trying to do that every time, [but] it doesn't always work out. This time, it all came together."