As they do each and every year, the Kansas City Chiefs used the bye week to look inward.
The coaching staff examined the film from the first 11 games, searching for “little nuggets,” as described by head coach Andy Reid on Monday. When pressed about what he found in his special teams' examination, coordinator Dave Toub would not go into details — but he did make it clear the team could improve in one specific aspect.
“I think we had a really good last four weeks on special teams It’s moving in the right direction,” Toub told reporters on Thursday. “There’s always room for improvement. I think our punt-return game, we need to get going a little bit more as far as our numbers and returns and stuff like that. As a coach, you’re never really satisfied, you know? You’re always looking to improve.”
Two games ago, Toub opted to change punt returners from wide receiver Mecole Hardman to cornerback Mike Hughes against the Las Vegas Raiders — and it seems like Toub’s off-week dive into the film only strengthened the case for his decision.
“We’re trying to get a spark,” said Toub. “We’re not giving up on Mecole by any means. He’s... probably the most dynamic guy we have. But just a little bit, maybe just sit back and watch a little bit and watch from the sideline. Maybe that will help your confidence maybe a little bit and watch somebody else do it. We’re happy; Mike does a great job. He’s a good catcher, makes good decisions and we just want to get that part of our game going.”
In eight returns this season, Hardman averaged 10.8 yards per return, which would qualify as the fifth-best rate for returners with at least five tries. Hughes has had only three returns since the Chiefs made the move — and without any qualifiers, his 18.3 yards per return would lead the league.
Hughes’ numbers include a speedy 37-yard return against the Las Vegas Raiders — a play that ended in a fumble lost. Still, the Chiefs stuck with Hughes the next game against the Dallas Cowboys — and Hardman did not see the field on special teams.
When the Chiefs made the move away from wide receiver Tyreek Hill to Hardman years ago, that was seen as a promotion of sorts. The Chiefs saw Hill as too important to the offense to risk injury on special teams.
The coaching staff has made it clear (in individual coaches’ personal vernacular) that this move was a benching.
“Here’s the thing — you want all your players to play as many positions as possible because when it’s all said and done with, we’re part of this team, we’re part of this organization,” explained offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. “It’s not about having one particular role. You want a number of roles that people can count on you. OK?
“So obviously, with coach Toub making that decision, obviously, he felt that was the best decision moving forward for the team. Now, the thing that we need to make sure is that Mecole is maximizing all the different opportunities that he’s being given. Obviously, with the wide receiver group... we just want our guys — the guys who are on the field — to give us the best chance to have success. And so, Mecole’s going to be given that opportunity. He just needs to continue maximizing it.”
While sitting out of special teams against the Cowboys, Hardman saw no uptick in offensive snaps. In fact, he played the smallest percetange of offensive snaps he’s had this season.