Posted Oct 30, 2010

Reacting to sudden change is a secret of success for Kansas City

In college, we called it “sudden change.” That’s how LB Mike Vrabel remembers it as well.

Here, the Chiefs just call it “points off turnovers.” Either way, it’s a point of emphasis stressed across all levels of football. From the sidelines of Pee-Wee games and into NFL meeting rooms, the game never gets too big for reacting to sudden change.

“I think it goes back to when you first stated playing football and you hear everybody talking about sudden change,” Vrabel remembered. “I don’t think that quite gets as used as it did when I was younger, but sudden change is something that you would be over on the bench sitting and drinking Gatorade and then all of a sudden everyone is scrambling for their helmets trying to get everyone out there.”

The sudden change comes for both offensive and defensive players. Specifically, sudden change occurs following an offensive giveaway or a defensive takeaway. It’s about running onto the field and adjusting to a brand new set of circumstances on the fly; circumstances that can single-handedly change a game.

From an offensive perspective, sudden change is about making the opponent pay for its miscue by capitalizing off a turnover. Defensive success is measured just the opposite. It’s about holding strong and keeping the opponent out of the end zone regardless of the field position inherited.

The reaction that follows sudden change often represents the thin line between winning and losing each Sunday.

“That’s a very big area,” Chiefs head coach Todd Haley said. “I think what is clear as you look at statistics in the league, and there are always some trend-breakers or trend-buckers that turnover differential – that points off of turnovers is a key stat in winning and losing.”


That’s the Chiefs scoring differential over opponents following a sudden change this season. The incredible mark represents the best differential in the NFL and it’s the ultimate sign of a team playing complimentary football.

The Chiefs are the only team in the league yet to allow any points off turnovers; an amazing stat considering the league-average currently stands at 33 points off gives.

“If you can score off of the turnovers your defense creates and basically not turn the ball over is the secret, and if you do turn it over and your defense doesn’t allow points, you’re record is going to be a record you’re probably happy with most times, as much or more than any other stat,” Haley said. “That’s what we we’ve talked about from day one last year.”

This year, the Chiefs have made it look easy. In fact, they’ve been perfect. But reacting to sudden change isn’t just about scoring points or stopping an opponent. There are intangibles that factor into the picture as well.

Veteran Shaun Smith is playing for his fourth franchise and has experienced both success and failure at the game’s highest level. He believes that Kansas City’s ability to adapt after a turnover is a credit to the overall makeup of the team just as much as it is anything else.

“I’ve been on teams that point the finger after a big play and it’s not like that here,” Smith said. “Everybody holds each other accountable and that’s what makes this team one of the special things that’s going on right now.”

A mix of cohesion, clutch stops and smart football have all factored into the mix through six games. Kansas City isn’t turning the football over much (just four giveaways all season) and they’re also taking advantage of opponent miscues with 100% efficiency.

The Chiefs have scored following all eight defensive takeaways this season, with six of those eight scores resulting in touchdowns. Kansas City’s +4 turnover ratio ranks a respectable ninth in the league, but it’s the 48-point scoring differential off those turnovers that’s helped lead them atop the AFC West.

“Your odds increase of giving up points on turnovers the more times you turn it over, the more opportunities you give the other team and depending on who the team is but what we’ve done very well on offense is not turn it over period,” Haley said.

Simple enough?

The turnover game makes football relatively easy. On a consistent basis, it’s what determines winners and losers at a consistent rate. Teams that win the turnover battle by two or more own a combined record of 44-6 this season. If you boast a scoring differential like the Chiefs do, the chances of winning increase even further.

“When you do not give the ball away, if you just do not give it away, you’re in the mid-80 percents of winning, you’re going to win over eight out of 10,” Haley said.

Simply protecting the football has definitely benefited the Chiefs. Their eight defensive takeaways are actually the fourth-fewest in the league. Tennessee already has 18 takeaways on the year, but nobody is efficient as the Chiefs following the sudden change.

Vrabel, the man who remembers the roots of sudden change, believes that Kansas City’s success after turnovers has translated into the other areas of the game as well. An ability to adapt is having a snowball effect on the Chiefs.

“Now it’s become an extended part of our game in how to deal with onside kicks and having to go out there when you’re not expecting it and into an unconventional situation,” Vrabel said. “I think we’ve made a point of emphasis of it and are well coached and well prepared.”

With the 2010 Chiefs, the word “unconventional” is taking on a whole new meaning. Sudden changes are extending into more than just the plays that follow turnovers. Fourth down attempts, onside kicks and unique personnel sets are all part of the picture as well.

But at the end of the day, the difference between winning and losing football games remains simple. It’s all about turnovers and how a team handles the set of circumstances that follow.

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