The Kansas City Chiefs are undefeated and through their first nine games Jamaal Charles has been their most valuable player. Charles is having a great season by almost any standard. He is among the league leaders in rushing yards. He is the Chiefs leader in receptions and receiving yards. He has accounted for an astounding 39% of KC’s total yards on offense and 50% of their offensive touchdowns. AA’s Jason Seibel made a compelling argument that Charles should be considered for the league MVP award. So it’s not surprising that when people discuss what needs to be improved on KC’s offense, the discussion basically includes everything BUT Jamaal Charles.
While I won’t dispute that Charles has been the unquestioned team MVP through nine games and the heart and soul of the offense, I do think you can make a case that Charles is no longer the explosive player that we saw in his first several seasons. There used to be no safer bet in the NFL than Charles breaking a long run if KC gave him enough carries. It’s part of the reason his yards per carry have been historically good in his early years.
Below are JC’s numbers for this season and the past two seasons he played (he missed 2011 with his knee injury). Let’s see if you can see some trends.
Here’s the bottom line. Charles touches per game have been steadily increasing and his YPC has been steadily decreasing. Is this all about Charles? No, there are other factors at play. The offensive line obviously has a big role. Also, you can make an argument that defenses are now keying on Charles more since they figured out that Charles is KC’s main threat.
Let’s address those two points for a moment.
First, let’s look at the offensive line. The current line of Branden Albert, Jeff Allen, Rodney Hudson, Jon Asamoah, and Eric Fisher have been under fire at times this season. The question is, how do they compare to the run blocking of the lines in 2012 and 2010. In order to try and take biased out I decided to look at the run blocking grades of the starting offensive linemen for all three seasons from Pro Football Focus. If you aren’t familiar with PFF, they grade every single play for each player. A bad play earns a negative score and a positive play earns a positive score. If you add the total season run blocking scores for all five starters, here are the totals.
That’s a huge swing from +33 to -17.9. It’s a 50.9 point swing to be exact. That means that in 2010 the average KC starting lineman had a run blocking grade of +6.6 and in 2013 that average score is a -3.6. So when evaluating Jamaal Charles performance this season it is absolutely fair to factor his offensive line’s play into his less productive rushing numbers.
Next, let’s look at the idea that defenses are focusing on stopping him more. There are two key areas here. The first is how effective the passing game is. If the passing game is effective, then defenses won’t be able to focus on stopping the run as much. The second has to do with the game situation. If the Chiefs are in the lead, especially late in the game, then the defense will be focusing on the run since they know KC will be trying to run the clock. However, if the Chiefs are losing, then the defense will play back to protect against getting beat deep by the pass.
The passing game has been up and down in recent years. The QB production in 2010 and 2013 are pretty similar, with 2012 being about as bad of QB play as a team can have. However, in both circumstances there isn’t an excuse for the 2013 run game performing worse. Since the 2013 QB production is similar to 2010, there isn’t any reason that defenses would be focusing on JC more this year than 2010 and with 2012 being much worse QB play, if anything defenses should have respected the threat of the pass LESS last year. So, despite the heat that Alex Smith has taken this season, I don’t think the passing game is a big part of the reason his production when running the ball is down this season.
However, the game situation factor does comes into play when looking at these seasons. In 2010, while KC did win a lot of games, it was usually Thomas Jones that got the late game carries to keep the clock moving. Charles carries were often earlier in the game when the game was still wide open. Therefore, JC didn’t have to face as many stacked boxes like he does late in games this season when KC has the lead. Then there is the 2012 season. The Chiefs almost set the NFL record for most consecutive games without holding a lead. Therefore, defenses were always playing back because KC was playing from behind. In fact, KC lost a staggering 10 games by double digits. So when it comes to game situations, there are justifications for Charles facing tougher running situations than in previous seasons.
So does that mean that we can say that there is no justification to the claim that Charles has lost a step?
Not so fast.
Although his line play has greatly regressed and the game situations he is facing are more challenging, there are still signs that Charles may have slowed a little. First, his touches per game are up almost 7 touches per game from 2010. It goes without saying that more touches equates to more wear and tear on the body (Charles has had some issues with his feet this season). Charles is on pace for about 385 touches this season. That would top his previous high by 65 touches. Getting older plus increased touches doesn’t usually equal more explosiveness. I think the fact that Charles has only had one run of over 20 yards in 170 carries is proof of this. I understand that the line hasn’t blocked well, but in the past Charles created his own long runs. This season 0.6% of his runs have gone for 20+ yards. In 2012, despite KC’s horrible passing attack, Charles had 3.9% of his runs go for 20+ yards. In 2010 that number was 4.3%.
So is there anything that KC can do to help JC break more long runs as the season goes on?
Yes, in my opinion, there is.
First off, they need to scale back his touches a little and get Knile Davis more involved in the offense. As the weather gets cold and the season wears on, it is more likely that Charles will wear down than warm up. The only way to keep his legs fresh is to get him more rest. While Davis is only averaging 3.5 YPC, if an increased Davis workload allowed JC to be more explosive, the overall effect on the offense would be a positive one. The Chiefs used a valuable early/mid round pick on Davis and it’s time that they got some production out of that pick.
Second, Jeff Allen should be benched going forward and replaced with Jeff Schwartz. This should be a no brainer and I’m not sure why it hasn’t happened yet. In Jeff Allen’s two seasons he has a combined PFF run blocking score of -21.1. Over the three seasons that Schwartz has appeared in games, he has a combined PFF run blocking score of +18.2. Schwartz also grades out better as a pass blocker, so there isn’t even an excuse of sacrificing pass protection in order to improve the run game.
As KC comes off the bye week and prepares for their biggest game of the season against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, let’s hope that the Chiefs make those changes. The Chiefs need more offensive production and while asking for that increase in production to come from Jamaal Charles seems crazy given all he has done thus far, it is possible. Imagine how good this team would be if KC’s premier defense were given a bigger cushion to work with via some 50 yard Jamaal Charles TD runs.
I don’t know that asking Alex Smith to suddenly become Peyton Manning in order to create more big plays on offense is realistic (okay, I know it’s not), but the Chiefs have a weapon on offense that in the past has been one of the best big play weapons in the history of the NFL. They should make unleashing that explosiveness a priority as the team heads down the home stretch.
What do you think Addicts? Should KC give Charles some more rest to keep him fresh? Is there any reason not to bench Jeff Allen? Do you have any other ideas that I’m not thinking of? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!
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