The Kicking Game Factor … Sunday Cup O’Chiefs

The first time the Chiefs and Chargers met this year there were 23 special teams plays in the game. Seven of those plays put points on the scoreboard. Another 15 delivered changes in field position.

In a game decided by three points, the kicking game was a pivotal factor in the game.

But then, it always seems to be that way in the AFC West. It certainly was the last time the Chiefs and Chargers played at Arrowhead Stadium. That game was highlighted by Dexter McCluster’s 94-yard punt return for a touchdown.

It would not be out of line to say that the difference between the Chiefs and Chargers last year, the difference between first and second places, the difference between playoffs and staying at home in January, was special teams. The Chiefs made the kicking game work, the Chargers did not.

In fact, last year San Diego had one of the worst special teams performances in recent NFL history. They allowed four punt and kick returns for touchdowns. They allowed four blocked punts. Despite the presence of instant speed and quickness Darren Sproles, the Chargers did not have a return TD during the season.

As the teams meet for the second time this season, it would not be a stretch to predict that the kicking game could make or break either team’s season. Monday night the most special of special teams will enjoy a winning evening.

“When you’ve got division teams playing each other, they tend to know a lot about the offense and defense of the other team,” said ILB Derrick Johnson. “There are more secrets on special teams. One or two plays from the kicking game can break open the game.

“We’ve got to win on special teams.”

And, that’s from Johnson, who does not play special teams these days for the Chiefs. But the guys on the important kicking teams units understand what’s on their shoulders.

“It’s going to come down to the kicking game,” said WR Terrence Copper.

So who has the edge in the matchup between Chiefs and Chargers in the kicking game? On paper after both teams have played six games, on paper the advantage goes to the Chiefs; their numbers are better across the board. The Chargers made a lot of changes after last year’s debacle, and some of those haven’t really kicked in to make a contribution. Plus, they lost their kicker to injury (Nate Kaeding) and their returner to free agency (Darren Sproles).

Here’s how the Chiefs and Chargers match up going into Monday night’s game with the current league ranking from the key units in ():

Chiefs K Ryan Succop vs. Chargers K Nick Novak

Succop is 12/12 on PAT kicks and 7 of 10 on his FGs. He’s missed from 49, 44 and 38 yards. Of the seven kicks he’s made, the average distance was 36.7 yards, including two over 50 yards. On kickoffs, Succop has 17 touchbacks

Novak replaced Nate Kaeding who suffered a pre-season injury and was sent to the injured-reserve list for the season. Novak is 12 of 12 on PAT kicks and 11 of 11 on his FG. The average distance of his field goals was 34.7 yards with just one kick over 50 yards long. Novak has 15 touchbacks on kickoffs.

Chiefs P Dustin Colquitt (45.2/41.4) vs. Chargers P Mike Scifres (47.3/39.3)

These punters have been dueling for the last seven years in the AFC West. Both rank among the most effective punters in the conference, not just for distance, but for net average, field position placement, inside the 20-yard line, etc.

This season so far, Colquitt has punted 33 times, averaging 45.2 yards with a long punt of 65 yards. He has hit 10 punts so they stopped inside the 20-yard line, against just a single touchback. His gross average ranks him No. 15 and his net average of 41.4 ranks him fifth.

Scifres has punted 16 times, averaging 47.3 yards with a long punt of 58 yards. He has hit 6 punts inside the 20-yard line and no touchbacks. His net average was 41.3 yards. He was No. 11 on gross average, No. 16 in net average.

Chiefs punt return (3) vs. Chargers punt coverage (30)

Arenas continues to rank among the league leaders in average punt return at 15.5 yards, despite the fact that his longest return of the year is just 37 yards. He ranks behind only Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, who has averaged 15.9 yards, including an 89-yard TD return. Since that 94-yard return by McCluster in last year’s season opener against San Diego, the longest punt return the Chiefs have enjoyed is that 37-yarder this season by Arenas against the Chargers in San Diego. Overall, they rank 3rd in the league, behind only Denver and Arizona.

Overall, the Chargers have covered only eight punt returns, allowing an average return of 15.9 yards. The longest return that San Diego has given up this year is Arenas’ 37-yarder back in September. They rank as No. 30.

Last season, San Diego allowed an average return of 18.9 yards and finished last in the league.

Chiefs kickoff return (18) vs. Chargers kick coverage (27)

Since the third game of the season, Arenas has handled the kick return duties after the season started with McCluster getting the opportunities. Arenas has averaged 23 yards on nine kickoff returns with a long return of 35 yards. McCluster averaged 23.8 yards on eight returns, also with a long return of 35 yards. Combined, the Chiefs have averaged 23.4 yards per kickoff return and that ranks No. 18 in the league.

The Chargers are giving up an average of 28.6 yards per kickoff return, including a 103-yard return by Minnesota’s Percy Harvin that went for a touchdown in the season opener. They are No. 27 in kick coverage on the season.

Last year, San Diego allowed an average kickoff return of 22.4 yards, despite the fact they allowed 3 touchdown returns. They finished No. 16 in coverage.

Chargers punt return (25) vs. Chiefs punt coverage (13)

San Diego has split their punt return duties between backup WRs Patrick Crayton and Bryan Walters. Combined, they have returned 17 punts for an average of 7.8 yards a return. The longest return went for 29 yards by Crayton. That ranks them 25th among the 32 teams in punt returns.

The Chiefs punt coverage unit has handled 13 returns, giving up an average of 8 yards per return, with a long return of 28 yards. Opponents have 11 fair catches against the Chiefs, one of the higher numbers in the league. They are No. 13 in punt coverage.

Last season, the Chargers averaged 10.5 yards a return and that was good enough for a tie at No. 13.

Chargers kickoff return (24) vs. Chiefs kick coverage (5)

WR Richard Goodman has been the leading returner on kickoffs, handling 13 for an average return of 22.8 yards. Overall, San Diego has returned 16 kickoffs for a 22.3-yard average, with a long return of 31 yards. That has them ranked 24th in the league.

K.C.’s kickoff coverage unit has covered 7 returns, and they’ve given up an average of 20.6 yards per return. The longest return by an opponent was 30 yards. That ranks them at No. 5 in the league.

The Chargers had an average kickoff return in 2010 of 24 yards, and that was good enough for a No. 11 finish.

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