KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Of all the things the Chiefs should be focusing on this time of year, with the season four weeks old and the Baltimore Ravens coming to town on Sunday, something as elementary as protecting the football shouldn’t be topping the list.
That’s something to work on in training camp, when running backs are told to carry the ball “high and tight,” and quarterbacks are told to throw it away if they’re under pressure.
Fundamentals, right? Lessons that should have been learned long ago.
Clearly, that hasn’t been the case in Kansas City.
The Chiefs lead the NFL with 15 turnovers, their eight fumbles lost are double the next-worst team in the AFC, and their minus-13 differential is a big reason that they’ve been blown out in three of the four games they’ve played, and needed a late rally to win the other.
The most sobering display may have been last Sunday, when Kansas City turned it over six times — five in the first half — against San Diego. Matt Cassel tossed three interceptions and Jamaal Charles fumbled twice, allowing the Chargers to race out to a 27-6 halftime lead en route to a 37-20 win.
“We cannot turn the ball over, so we’re going to concentrate on the importance of the football and hanging onto it,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said Wednesday.
Sounds like it’s time for a refresher course, Ball Security 101.
“One thing we do is work on it more,” Crennel said, “so all week we’re going to put more emphasis on hanging onto the football.”
That means running backs plunging into a machine designed to force them into tucking away the ball. It means putting Cassel under duress and making sure he makes the right decision as he drops back to pass, even if it means throwing the ball away or taking a sack.
“I know as the quarterback that I have to do a better job of taking care of the ball,” said Cassel, who has been responsible for 10 of the Chiefs’ turnovers, more than all but five teams in the NFL. “I’m working each and every day to get better, and I will get better.”
The problem is that Cassel isn’t the only one to blame.
“Everybody has to start doing a better job,” right tackle Eric Winston said. “I’ve played this game a long time to realize that you guys sit up there and you see an interception, I sit there and I see bad protection, wrong route or a wrong block.
“Whatever it might be, it is on everybody,” Winston said. “You can put the blame on a couple guys, but to me, this game — at this level especially — we are all tied in together.”
So you might as well throw the defense into the mix, too.
While the Chiefs have sloppily given away opportunities on offense, the defense has been lousy at getting the ball back. They forced 26 turnovers last season, tied for sixth in the AFC, but have so far this season created two: interceptions by Stanford Routt and Brandon Flowers.
The Chiefs’ 15 turnovers have been turned into 58 points, seven touchdowns and three field goals, while four other possessions resulted in the end of the half or the game.
That means the Kansas City defense has held after a turnover precisely once.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the offense has coughed up the ball on its own side of the field 11 times, giving opponents an average starting field position of the Kansas City 39.
“You have to start playing defense wherever you are on the field. You can’t think about those things,” cornerback Javier Arenas said. “In terms of where the offense is starting, it’s tough out there. We understand that. We’re not going to complain about it. We’re not that type of team.”
The only team that comes close to Kansas City’s proficiency at turning over the ball is Philadelphia, which has thrown six interceptions and lost six fumbles. Buffalo is the next-worst team in the AFC with 11 turnovers, matching the Chiefs with their seven interceptions.
The only quarterback to throw more interceptions than Cassel: the Cowboys’ Tony Romo, who has eight of them after tossing five in Monday night’s loss to the Chicago Bears.
“It’s tough,” Winston said. “Anytime in this league that you turn the ball over, you obviously aren’t helping the defense and you are giving the other team so much momentum. Like I said, I don’t think the turnovers are on one person, I really don’t. We all have to come together and figure out why it is happening.”