Romeo Crennel has already been in this spot, the one where a team he coaches finds it difficult — if not impossible — to hold on to the football.
So Crennel doesn’t need to be told that the Chiefs are wearing a target and opponents are coming after them trying to pry the ball loose and force turnovers. It has happened many times before.
Crennel coached special teams for the New York Giants in 1983, when they committed 58 turnovers and finished 3-12-1 as a result. This year, he’s coach of the Chiefs, who have piled up 25 turnovers in seven games heading into Thursday’s game at San Diego.
There’s no bigger reason for the Chiefs’ 1-6 record, or the fact that they haven’t led during a game this season. The Chiefs are on pace for 57 turnovers, which would be sixth-most in NFL history.
The NFL record is 65 set by the Denver Broncos in 1961.
“The opponent, what they do is emphasize it during the week, and they say, ‘Let’s go after these guys because they’ll put the ball on the ground,’” Crennel said. “So every time (any Chiefs player) who has the ball in their hands, the ball is going to be stripped, they’re going to be pulling at it, they’re going to be trying to knock it out, whoever it is. That’s why we have to put additional emphasis on protecting the football at all costs.”
The Chiefs have tried to do that for a while. They started taking corrective measures in practice early in the season when it became obvious that fumbles and interceptions were a recurring problem.
They still have 13 interceptions and 12 fumbles; both totals are the highest single-game totals in the league.
“We’ve been working on that in practice for weeks now,” receiver Dexter McCluster said. “We just have to carry it over into the game. The most important thing about this game is protecting that football.
“Some of the running backs, even when they’re not in, are holding footballs. Guys are walking around trying to strip the ball from you. It all goes down to being conscious about it.”
The problem is, the Chiefs’ attention to the issue just isn’t carrying over to their games.
“It’s hard to replicate a game situation,” McCluster said.
The Chiefs had five turnovers in the first half and another in the second half of their game against the Chargers on Sept. 29 at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s little wonder the Chiefs trailed 27-6 at halftime and lost 37-20.
On five possessions, the Chiefs not only gave up the chance to score points, but also set up the Chargers with favorable field position. On the sixth turnover, San Diego returned an interception for a touchdown.
“They did a good job of taking the ball away,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “You watch that game and relive it a little bit, particularly the first few plays. It wasn’t very good in terms of holding onto the football. They stripped the ball, too. You’re going to have to do a good job of taking care of the football. That’s your first and foremost responsibility — to make sure at the end of the play, you give it back to the ref and come back to the huddle.
“Give them credit. They did a good job of stripping the ball out of our hands, and catching tipped balls … they played well that first game, no question. We’re going to have to protect the football.”
Defenses always emphasis creating turnovers, but they work even harder at it when a team is coughing it up at a near-record rate, as are the Chiefs.
“It’s a point of emphasis obviously when a guy has trouble holding on to the ball,” said San Diego safety Eric Weddle, who has four interceptions in his last three games against the Chiefs. “You get your scouting report (from the coaches) and you go player by player, and some guys put the ball on the ground. You kind of know the ins and outs. Being a division game, you know the players and we know how they play.
“We just know how these players are, and what they do best and what they aren’t so good at.”
The Chiefs no doubt have a bunch of players the Chargers target for turnovers. Quarterback Matt Cassel has an eye-popping 16 turnovers (10 interceptions, six fumbles) in six games. McCluster and running back Jamaal Charles have had fumbling problems, though McCluster has lost just one fumble this year.
A number of Cassel’s interceptions have been tipped by Chiefs receivers. Last week against Oakland, Cassel dropped a snap from center Ryan Lilja for the second time this season and threw an interception when wide receiver Jon Baldwin ran the wrong route after misinterpreting a signal from Cassel.
“A lot of these turnovers have been because of a tipped ball or something else funky, like a miscommunication (with a receiver),” Cassel said.
All Crennel can do at this point is hope the Chiefs can reduce their turnovers over the season’s second half, and not approach or surpass the 58 committed by those 1983 Giants.
“That was a bad year for us,” Crennel said. “Bill (Parcells) had just taken over as coach that year, and so there were some different dynamics with a new coach and a new philosophy. We were putting the ball on the ground a little bit.
“I don’t remember exactly why that was occurring, but I know we put an emphasis on protecting the ball, hanging on to the ball, putting both hands on the ball, those kinds of things, to help slow that trend down.”