Losing possession one of many problems for Chiefs
Thursday, September 22, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Jon McGraw cradled the pass from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in his arms, turned up field and set his sights on a game-changing interception return that might serve to lift the Kansas City Chiefs out of their early season funk.
Then the ball was on the turf at Ford Field, and moments later, it was the Detroit offense rather than the Kansas City offense that was huddling up for the next play.
The fumble in the first quarter of a 48-3 loss to the Lions last Sunday was one of six turnovers on the day for the Chiefs. They also had three turnovers in a 41-7 season-opening loss to the Buffalo Bills, putting them on pace for 72 this season, which would easily set an NFL record.
In a season that has already had so much go so wrong, turnovers are near the top of the list.
"That's fundamental football since I was playing flag football," Chiefs wide receiver Jerheme Urban said. "You can't win games when you turn the ball over. Unfortunately, we haven't done a very good job of protecting it. But you can't do that and expect to win games. The stats show that."
Indeed, as last season demonstrated.
Kansas City was among the best teams in the league at protecting the football, losing only six of 15 fumbles, tied for second-fewest behind the New England Patriots. Quarterback Matt Cassel threw 27 touchdown passes against seven interceptions, easily the best ratio of his blossoming career, and the team's 14 total turnovers were the fewest in franchise history in a non-strike season.
The result was a surprising 10-6 finish and an AFC West title.
Now, the law of averages is beginning to catch up.
Cassel has already thrown four interceptions through two games, and was responsible for a fumble against Detroit as well. The rest of the team has coughed the ball up four more times, two of them by running back Dexter McCluster, for an unsightly minus-7 turnover ratio.
The fact that Kansas City's offense, missing Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki after season-ending knee injuries, has been so adept at giving the ball away is a big reason it has struggled so much in nearly every other facet of the game.
The Chiefs have had the ball nearly 10 fewer minutes per game and gained 300 fewer yards total against a pair of teams that won a combined 10 games last season. They've allowed 11 TDs and scored just one, have converted only 5 of 24 third-down attempts, made 25 first downs compared to 46 for the opposition, and average nearly a yard-and-a-half less per offensive play.
"If you're turning the ball over in this league, you're going to end up paying for it," said San Diego coach Norv Turner, whose team faces Kansas City on Sunday. "And they're turning the ball over an awful lot and giving teams short fields."
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown four interceptions, too, so Turner is experiencing a bit of the same thing. Kansas City is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the worst turnover margin in the NFL this season; San Diego is close behind in third.
"It comes back to technique," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. "If you're carrying the ball the proper way, you should not turn it over in most cases, and why that technique suffers sometimes? Just lack of doing it the right way."
Haley said part of the problem comes from players trying to do too much. Rather than getting a key interception like McGraw did against the Lions, which would have given the Chiefs good field position, the veteran gave it right back to Detroit because he was trying to make a play.
That's an easy issue to have when your team is off to one of the worst starts through two games in NFL history, has lost some of its best players to injury and has a difficult stretch still ahead.
"That's part of being a smart player," Haley said, "knowing when to say when, knowing what your role is, and knowing you can't take on everybody on every play.
"You hear me say it all the time, just do your job first," he said. "The plays then have a tendency to come to you a little more and then good things happen. It's not pandemonium or panic. We just need to do things better, and if we do things better, we can be a good football team."