In the rare air of Denver, Colquitt might just be the Chiefs’ secret weapon

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It doesn’t end with pins, but it sure as hell starts there. During a 39-33 loss at Indianapolis on October 20 — their only loss to date — the Orange pick-route monster known as the Denver Broncos had to start seven drives behind their own 20-yard line. Here’s how those drives ended up:

Denver 13 — Punt

Denver 6 — Fumble, safety

Denver 2 — Punt

Denver 16 — Punt

Denver 10 — Punt

Denver 15 — Interception

Denver 15 — Fumble

So let’s recap: Out of seven drives, that’s four punts, two turnovers, and two points for the other guy.

Sense a theme?

Pin ’em back. Make ’em work for it.

“And I think it’s becoming a bigger deal, because our defense is playing so well right now,” says Kansas City Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, the current NFL leader in “pins” — punts dropped inside the opponent’s 20 — and the Big Red Sharknado’s secret weapon. “And when you get the ball inside the 5, we’re making offenses pay.

“You’re not seeing a lot of guys get first-and-10 at the 2-yard line and the next thing you know, they’re at the 17 and they’re out of trouble. They’re digging in, it’s third-and-10 at the 3-yard line, and it’s becoming a field-position battle. It’s kudos to our two gunners, man. They’re going down there, making plays, and they’re allowing the punt team as a whole to be aggressive and to get the ball inside the 5-yard line.”

It starts with Colquitt, the coffin-corner king, dropping the kind of up-and-down pitch shots that would make Corey Pavin blush.

This is an artist at the height of his powers: The Tennessee native has plopped 26 punts inside the opposing 20 through nine games, most in the NFL. That puts him on a pace for 46; Colquitt already holds the Chiefs’ single-season record of 45, set in 2012. The NFL single-season record is 46, a bar raised by Arizona’s Dave Zastudil just last fall.

Of Colquitt’s 55 boots, almost half — 47.3 percent — were pinned to the 20 or further back. Combine that with a defense that treats opposing quarterbacks the way a circular saw treats a piece of birch, and you’re halfway to explaining 9-0.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, you have to score points, you have to do that,'” says Colquitt, whose Chiefs visit the aforementioned Broncos (8-1) Sunday night in the NFL’s marquee matchup of the weekend.

“But when you’re getting offenses to start inside the 20, more often than not, that’s winning field position, giving our offense a chance at having a shorter field to travel down, and (kicker) Ryan (Succop) has been fantastic this year as far as field goals and kickoffs are going.”

The Pro Bowler describes punt placement as a tandem job, a team gig, with gunners Junior Hemingway and Ron Parker acting as partners in crime. In hockey terms, Colquitt dumps; Parker and Hemingway chase.

“It’s like a triangle,” Colquitt says. “And they’re athletes and they make some great plays down there. It allows me to kind of think outside the box and be aggressive. And the thing that punters think about is, ‘Just be safe, put it down on the 10.’ But (when) you’ve got guys that are working really well down there together, it’s easy to say, ‘OK, I’m going to aim for the 5, the 4,’ and they allow you to be a little more aggressive.”

Aggressive rocks. Accuracy rules. At Denver last year, Colquitt dropped three of his eight punts behind the Broncos’ 20. In 2011, it was four of eight. In 2009 and ’10, it was three of six, combined.

Pin ’em back. Make ’em work for it.

And if you’re looking for an “X factor” to follow during the NFL’s main event, field position figures to be as critical as any. In one corner, you’ve got Dustin, who was the NFL’s highest-paid punter for a few months earlier this year, taking in $3.75 million as part of a five-year deal signed in the spring. In the other corner, there’s Dustin’s brother Britton; the younger Colquitt replaced his brother on the best-paid list when Denver inked him to a three-year extension in August that will pay him $3.9 million annually.

“We talk all the time,” Dustin says. “I steal stuff from him, he steals stuff from me. If we see something on film, we try to talk and communicate that. I think the league’s kind of pretty open as far as punters doing that — nobody tries to reinvent the wheel.”

Of course, speaking of wheels, there’s the problem of Denver return ace Trindon Holliday, who’s averaging 10.6 yards per runback on punts and 32.1 yards on kickoffs — the latter mark ranking third best in the NFL.

“With Trindon Holliday, when you’ve got a guy like that that’s that explosive, that can get you first downs (just) from the return game, you’ve got to be careful with him,” Colquitt says. “And then if you can lock him down, then you just start trying to lock down their offense, lock down their defense, lock down their special teams, and just try to keep pulling games out, like we’ve been doing.”

Even if that means kicking it out of bounds, just to be safe?

“Sure, you would. I mean, when you’re playing a returner like this you have to check your ego at the door a lot of times,” Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub told reporters Thursday. “There are going to be situations where we’re going to ask Dustin to punt this one out of bounds, and that’s OK. As long as he’s not ripping up the field on us, that’s really what we’re looking for.”

Pin ’em back. Make ’em work for it.

“Our defensive coordinator tells us, ‘Anytime a team has to go 80 yards or more in the NFL, I think they score 13 percent of the time,'” Succop says. “So if we can continue to do that, Dustin can continue to punt the way he has, you know, it’ll be a big impact for us.”

Big? In a hostile environment, in prime time, it might just end up being the leg that saves their bacon.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at