Hold On To The Ball … Saturday’s Cup O’Chiefs

From Seattle, Washington

Back in the day, it was known as the Seattle Rule. It was established by former Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer and it was instituted any week his team was preparing to play the Seahawks or another team that used a great deal of energy trying to cause turnovers.

The premise of the Seattle Rule was that on the practice field, the Chiefs ball carriers were to hand the ball to an official or ball boy at the end of each play. Failure to do so would lead to some sort of discipline.

Marty’s idea was simple – don’t get in the habit of allowing the Seahawks to touch the ball when it wasn’t in their possession.

Throughout Schottenheimer’s 10 seasons as head coach, the Chiefs were the league leader in the turnover ratio. A lot of that had to do with some outstanding defenses with players like Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, Albert Lewis, James Hasty, Dale Carter and many others. But equal measure was given in the head coach’s eye to not giving the ball away and the Chiefs were among the league leaders in fewest turnovers each season.

From 1989-98, the Chiefs were plus-99 in the turnover ratio, easily the best differential in the league. In 160 regular season games, they gave the ball away 254 times and took it away 353 times. Both numbers rank among the league leaders. The New York Giants were second in that time frame in turnover ratio at plus-77.

This week, the 2010 Chiefs under Todd Haley did not start their own Seattle rule. But maybe they should have. When the Seahawks win the turnover battle they end up with the victory. When Pete Carroll’s team loses the turnover battle, they end up on the short side of the score.  

In five victories, Seattle is plus-9 in the turnover ratio. In five defeats, the Seahawks are minus-8. In comparison, the Chiefs are plus-5 in their six victories and even in their four defeats.

For the Chiefs, it seems a perfect opportunity to keep both teams traveling down the paths they have covered throughout the 2010 season to date. For the Chiefs that means forcing more turnovers, while holding the ball and not giving it way.

Holding onto the ball has not been a problem. They have just seven giveaways, the lowest total in the league this season. It’s part of the turnover equation the Chiefs have worked at keeping under control.

“We coach it hard,” Haley said. “It’s something that when you turn the football over your chances of winning a game go way down, especially when you’re playing on the road – I think it’s somewhere around if you end up with a -1 on the road, you’re in the 30 percent chance of winning. If you’re at -2 it goes down to one and a half out of 10.”

As the chart above shows, there’s a huge advantage to winning in the NFL for teams that don’t give the ball away. They win 8.5 of every 10 games they play. Combine that with teams that have a single giveaway, and those teams win 6.8 of every 10 games they play.

But after one giveaway, the chances of winning begin to fall through the floor. It’s possible to win an occasional game with a lot of turnovers. Jacksonville recently beat Cleveland despite the fact they turned the ball over six times. But the chances are minimal. Teams with three or more giveaways win 2.4 of every 10 games they play.

Those are the numbers for this season, but they look very much like the numbers the league has seen for decades. It’s just a fact of football life – if a team has the ball, it needs to keep the ball.

“You’ve got to protect the football in order to have a chance to win,” said Haley. “We have the gauntlet machine out here; we work on it all the time in practice in our team drills. It’s something that you’ll see us emphasize, especially in season, we get all 11 defenders to the ball trying to rip it out and that in turn helps our guys carrying it learn how to protect it. It’s just a mindset and being smart because you’ve got to make good decisions throwing it, you’ve got to make good decisions how you carry it, where you carry it, when you switch it, all those things.”

That hard work sometimes needs a bit of luck to keep the ball in the right hands. Last week against Arizona and the game before in Denver, the Chiefs had ball carriers that lost the ball at the end of the play. Against the Broncos it was WR Dwayne Bowe, and in the game against the Cardinals it was RBs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. On two of the three plays the officials ruled the ball was down and not a fumble. On the third, one official ruled down, but another official overruled him and called it a fumble. Haley had to throw his red flag for a re play challenge, which showed the ball was indeed down and was not a fumble.

“You can’t leave it to chance,” Haley said. “You just can’t do anything careless with the football because it’ll end up getting you. There were even cases in that game (Arizona), Dwayne (Bowe) made a heck of a play on the catch and run and on the run you see him take the ball up over the defenders helmet. Those are the type of things that you may get away with once or twice but it’ll catch up to you if you’re not careful.

“It’s something we’re coaching during the game, coaching after the game, coaching on the tape, coaching during practice. You just have to be relentless on it I think and you’ve got to have good players that take pride in their job.”

Right now the Chiefs need to find a way to create more takeaways. They work on that aspect of the turnover battle every day as well, but it’s not producing the kind of results they would like.

“That’s something that we’re emphasizing, trying to disrupt the football,” Haley said. “I think number one you’ve got to play the defense first and foremost that has to be your focus. Stopping the run and building a wall and then when you are tackling. I think it’s about getting everybody to the football, it’s about tackling with great technique, getting one guy wrapped up and another guy in there punching it out and you’ve got to just try to make it happen. You’ve got to be opportunistic when it comes up or there’s an overthrow or some of those.”

Based on the way the Chiefs and Seahawks have played this year, there’s a very good chance that Sunday’s game at Qwest Field will have turnover in the winning formula for one of the teams. The Chiefs need to make sure that play helps them if they want to continue on their path to being a contender.


  • NFL – fined Giants RB Brandon Jacobs $20,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct toward fans in Philadelphia last weekend.
  • BROWNS – announced that Jake Delhomme will start at quarterback on Sunday against the Panthers.
  • DOLPHINS – released DE Clifton Geathers; signed DL Chris Baker off their practice squad.
  • SEAHAWKS – placed TE Anthony McCoy on the injured-reserve list (knee) ending his season; claimed DE Clifton Geathers on waivers from the Dolphins.

One Response to “Hold On To The Ball … Saturday’s Cup O’Chiefs”

  • November 27, 2010  - gorillafan says:

    Great work bob!

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