Arrowhead Report: Wednesday, November 24th

Posted Nov 24, 2010

News and Notes from Wednesday at Arrowhead

A year ago, the Chiefs took Thanksgiving Day off. That won’t be the case this season; at least, not entirely.

In his first year as head coach, Todd Haley shifted practices around during Thanksgiving Week in order to give his players Thursday off. The team was riding high at the time, fresh off an upset victory over Pittsburgh in overtime, and the players traded their normal day off on Tuesday for the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Whether or not changing the weekly routine in honor of Thanksgiving had anything to do with it, the Chiefs traveled to San Diego and were beaten 43-14 the following Sunday. This year, the Chiefs kept things routine. Players had their normal day off on Tuesday and will practice Wednesday-Friday.

Today, Haley said that last season’s results from the Sunday that followed Thanksgiving had no bearing on him setting the Chiefs practice schedule this week.

“We’re just trying to find the right combination for this group and for this team this year,” Haley said. “Every year is different and every group of guys is different. I think that the important thing is that we just got back to our routine as best we can.”

Haley went on to add that the Chiefs are adjusting their meetings routine on Thursday in order to give players and coaches amble time to spend the evening with their families.

“This is an important holiday in my mind and I’ve let the guys know how important I think it is, because we all have so much to be thankful for,” Haley said. “You don’t want to just bypass it.”

Shaun Smith said that he already has a turkey marinating while other players are planning on spending Thanksgiving afternoon watching football together at the homes of veteran teammates. Running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones will be at the Country Club Plaza to flip the switch at the 81st annual Plaza Lights Lighting Ceremony beginning at 6:00 PM.

18 TDs and 4 INTs

The numbers don’t lie. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel is not only taking care of the football, but he’s seen his efficiency marks increase dramatically as well.

Cassel has thrown an NFL-low of just four interceptions this season and he’s already eclipsed his touchdown total from 2009 by two TD passes. When comparing Cassel’s numbers through 10 starts from 2009 to 2010, the improvement is staggering.

Cassel’s interception total has been cut nearly in half, his completion percentage is up 4% along with an increase of 1.2 yards per attempt and he’s thrown nearly 40% more TD passes. Cassel has also been sacked just 15 times through 10 starts compared to 35 times at this point last season.

Outside of the obvious – “another year in the system, another season with his receivers and another year in the NFL” – Cassel points to an increased awareness of when to throw the football away for his rapid improvement in 2010.

“That’s one area that we really emphasized and worked on in the offseason,” Cassel said. “It was a point of emphasis that, ‘hey, you don’t always have to make the great play and you don’t’ always have to run around and try to make a play out of nothing. Sometimes the right play is just to throw it away and move on to 2nd down instead of throwing a ball up for grabs and having something bad happen.”

Making smart choices with the football hasn’t only been a coaching point for Cassel, but one that’s been distributed towards the entire football team throughout the spring, summer and fall. Haley often talks about fumbles occurring when runners are carrying the football in the “wrong arm” and the team implements a number of giveaway/takeaway drills into its practice sessions.

All of the offseason and in-season work appears to be paying off.

In addition to Cassel’s efficiency numbers increasing, the Chiefs are on pace to total just 11 giveaways in 2010. Last year the team finished with 27 turnovers (17 INTs and 10 lost fumbles).  

“Every team coaches it, and we coach it hard,” Haley said. “When you turn the football over your chances of winning the game go way down, especially when you’re playing on the road.”

Teams that finish games with a positive margin are winning at a 75% clip this season.

’Hawks Live and Die by Turnover Differential

Speaking of turnovers, there isn’t a team in the league whose season has been defined by turnovers more than the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks own a perfect split, going an undefeated 5-0 in games when finishing with a positive (or even) turnover mark, but going a winless 0-5 in games where they finish with a negative ratio.

Seahawks first-year head coach Pete Carroll said today in his conference call with the Kansas City media that he feels his program is at a point where they have to win the turnover battle in order to claim victory on Sunday.

“I’ve felt that every day of the nine years that I was at USC too,” Carroll said. “It’s never changed. It’s always that way. That’s the way football goes and we have an enormous stat in 10 years of games that when you’re even or plus, that you win. That’s the deciding factor, the biggest issue and the biggest philosophy in our whole program. It’s about taking of the football.”

The Seahawks are +9 in their five wins this season and are -8 in their five losses. Seattle’s win/loss correlation with its turnover differential has a history that extends beyond Carroll’s tenure as head coach. The Seahawks own an 8-2 record when positive in the turnover department dating back to 2009, but are 1-11 when negative over that same span.

While Haley and Carroll appear to have different coaching styles, the two both hand their hat on limiting giveaways and producing takeaways.

“I think our numbers in the nine years we were at S.C. is that we were +110 or something like that,” Carroll said. “It was a stat that we were most proud of and it stayed right with us hand-in-hand with all of our wins.”

Injury Report

The Chiefs still have a number of players listed on the injury report this week, but good news came out of practice on Wednesday when a pair of rookies received injury upgrades.

WR Dexter McCluster hasn’t fully participated in a practice since injuring an ankle exactly one month ago against Jacksonville. McCluster was officially listed as a full participant in practice this morning. Fellow rookie, TE Tony Moeaki, returned to practice field today as well. Moeaki was limited in his participation, but had previously not practiced in pads since leaving a game in Denver two Sunday’s ago with a head injury.

Other players who appeared on Kansas City’s injury report included Brandon Flowers (hamstring), Jon McGraw (head), Branden Albert (groin) and Ryan Lilja (foot). Both Albert and Lilja were limited, while Flowers and McGraw were held out of practice.

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