Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) carries the ball during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chiefs defeated the Eagles 26-16. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Has Jamaal Charles Lost A Step?


ArmchairAddict1

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.

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 5.52.47 PM

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.

2010: +33.0
2012: +8.6
2013: -17.9

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!!!!!!!!!

Follow me on Twitter: @LyleGraversen

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Tags: Jamaal Charles Kansas City Chiefs

  • Stacy D. Smith

    I think it’s a combination of line play and defenses cheating up because they aren’t afraid of us beating them deep. Good work, Graversen!

    • berttheclock

      Well, I suppose defenses could put nine in the box as Nike tried to do against Stanford and Stanford still ran over them.

      • Stacy D. Smith

        When you have good line play, sure. We don’t.

        • berttheclock

          Touche, sir, touche

  • Bigchief

    And blisters on his feet!

  • Phillip Maxwell

    I’ve actually been thinking about this exact thing this season. Great points! I was kinda thinking he was trying to avoid injury by not forcing things. Seems he used to turn back upfield in the past where now he ops to run to the sidelines.

  • LeVar Hill

    Charles is just fine watch for those long runs in the 2nd half of the season. The offensive line is young but their coming together experience is the best teacher. Jamal is just 1 arm tackle away from breaking a 70 yarder . No way he’s lost a step the way he breaks a 17 yard gain so quick he makes it look like he only ran 7 yards, my wife has commented on that plenty of times by saying “damn he didn’t even look like he got the many yards” and I say that’s speed baby. 27-17 chiefs baby and Jamal gives everbody what they want an 80 yarder lol go chiefs.

    • Lyle Graversen

      I hope you’re right. I think the offensive line is the #1 factor, but I’m not sure he may not be down 5% from where he was in 2010.

      • LeVar Hill

        I look for him to be fresh off this bye week. Just that much more rest for those toes. Now that I think about it he’s probably just a lil worn out to break those arm tackles because he is used heavily in the passing game. He’ll be fine. Just 26 years old he’s got 3 strong years left in him.

  • tomflex

    love the stats…nice piece as usual. I think Charles is having his best year ever and I don’t think he has slowed down much if any. Seems that in the past he always had that one long run in a game that added lots of yards to his average per carry. This was great but one long run was like one long pass it only got you one score. Now Charles is getting the tough yards that keep the chains moving and he’s doing this at the most critical time…late in games. I do agree that the line is not making the holes they used to make for Charles to burst through but that could be fixed by as you say swapping out Allen and running more of a spread type offense to loosen up the middle….

  • Justin Jones

    i agree 100% about allen. when the season started i had thought schwartz was brought in to start but he never has this year. i have been wondering about that all year. we have all noticed bad O line play all year. i think it is hampering jamaal and alex both.

    • Josh Landers

      I think they’re starting Allen over Schwartz because Schwartz can play multiple positions on the line. If someone goes down, he can be plugged in almost anywhere on the line. Allen doesn’t have that kind of versatility. Idk what the coaches are thinking but that’s my guess.

      • Lyle Graversen

        So if someone else goes down then you bring Allen in at LG and move Schwartz to wherever the other guy went down at.

        • Josh Landers

          I agree. It’s obvious that Schwartz is better than Allen. Maybe they’re trying to get him reps to improve?

  • berttheclock

    One thing about the ratings by PFF is some of the offensive linemen have been given better run blocking grades than pass blocking. If the run blocking ratings have fallen, this speaks volumes about the ineptness of the offensive line.

    However, this incessant rant about Alex Smith throwing longer, I submit the manner in which the excellent defense of the Panthers negated Colin Kaepernick, yesterday, after the excellent TE, Davis, left the game with a concussion. In the remaining 37 minutes of play, the Niners only had 4 first downs and gained only 65 yards. Kaepernick has been rated with a far stronger throwing arm than Alex Smith and what did that gain him?

    • berttheclock

      PFF gave Eric Fisher a plus 2 for the Bills game, largely, due to run blocking. It was his first positive grade of the season as he has been rated as low as nearly a minus 5

  • berttheclock

    Attention Jason Seibel. Will you please write a thread honoring those former NFL players and management types who lost their lives in World War II, Viet Nam and Afghanistan. Twenty Nine of them died. I was only Cold War and served only 39 months and do not consider myself a veteran in the same class as those I see at the VA who wear their hats from hot wars, but, I really wish you would write a shout out to those who did serve and, especially, those who paid their last full measure.

    I still recall seeing the track and field records from my high school in Kansas City, Kansas. For years, Jack Buckman held the interscholastic high jump record. It was set in 1938 or 1939 and was not broken until the mid sixties. Jack Buckman went off to war and never returned.

    On this Veterans Day, I salute all who have served, whether in war or peacetime.

  • jeffromac23

    Great article agree with you about replacing Jeff Allen with Geoff Swartz but I think Geoff Swartz would probally like you better if you spelled his name right.

    • berttheclock

      As in the line from “Space Balls” of “Let the Schwartz be with you”.

      • Jim Harper

        rofl

    • Lyle Graversen

      Good call, those are the kind of things I never catch in proof reading. Well, let’s be honest, there’s a LOT I don’t catch in proof reading some weeks.

  • DTVTechGuy

    Don’t think Jamal has lost a step at all… Where is he at in All-Purpose Yards?

    Different offense fellas…. We need better blocking and JC would be out of control… But he’s still getting his..

  • sidibeke

    Hey Lyle. I was thinking the same thing and came up with another possibility. The KC pass game is MORE effective than it has been in the past, so D’s are stacking the line quite as much. This means, whereas in the past once JC broke to the next level it was a foot race with everyone trying to catch up to him, now he has defenders back there who can take an angle. Thus, a lower number of big runs and no runs where he has taken it to the house yet. What do you think? Possible?

    • Calchiefsfan

      My exact thoughts. Defenses are watching the mid field passes more against Smith so there are defenders at the second level to make the plays.

      • Calchiefsfan

        And of course the O line play.

    • Lyle Graversen

      That’s a GREAT point that I didn’t really think about, but that is a very valid consideration sidibeke.

  • ondgo247

    When your offensive line sucks and you have no receiver options, even though one lazy under-performer is paid like a marquee player, why do you think Barry Sanders retired early? He got the brunt of the workload and the brunt of the beating.

  • justin hall

    Wait til he takes denver’s defense (lol defense) too the woodshed then ask me if he’s lost a step

  • Josh Landers

    Another thing is when we run the ball, everyone in the stadium knows it. I think we should implement some more counters and cutback runs to throw off the defenses a bit. It seems like it’s either an off tackle run or toss play about 95% of the run plays. We gotta get a little more creative. IMHO. GO CHIEFS!!!

    • Gabe Kleinschmidt

      Just my opinion, take it with a grain of salt:
      I think it’s the Chiefs’ plan and formula to use Jamaal as a workhouse back. It’s Andy Reid. It’s his offensive style. Using Jamaal like Westbrook and McCoy back in Philly. He uses backs as receivers and has a dink and dunk sort of offense. They’re using the field position and time of position game, win with defense blueprint. They’re not a big play offense, they’re don’t care about using Jamaal for those huge highlight runs and excitement for fans. They’re just employing this steddy eddy, perhaps less “cool” and explosive strategy and it’s obviously working. I of course can’t read Jamaal’s mind but think he has the same mindset and philosophy this year. He’s the best cutback runner and home run hitter but he and the Chiefs are just hitting singles getting on base (first downs) and manufacturing runs like in baseball. They won’t light up the scoreboard even though they probably could if they wanted too. They’re whole MO this year is slow and steady wins the race, it’s like the opposite of Chip Kelly’s rabbit offense.
      I think this person’s comment is right on the money too, the defenses can read some of their plays like a book, even a lot of those short throws to Jamaal. They should at least consider opening up the run game and getting more creative. Throw some cutback/counter runs in like this person said so Jamaal can spread his wings a bit and have some fun with those 50 yard + runs once in a while. Both from a fan and football perspective, this could make sense since they might need to be flexible with their philosophy/game plan if they don’t want to be a one hit regular season wonder then just lose in the playoffs to some hot team when the one time their effective strategy doesn’t work.

      P.S. another thought = CJ2K in 09, had all those big runs, 2000 yards, but they didn’t even make the playoffs. Jamaal and the Chiefs could probably break the rushing record with a coach, system, and goals focused around doing so. They’re just doing what they need to do to win; I just hope they need to do what they can keep doing so, even if that means changing some things up on offense and mindset in general. Given, their great success thus far, I doubt they’ll change anything.

      • Josh Landers

        I agree. I wish they would change it up a bit because we have a terrible third down and red zone td percentage. Grabbing four or five yards on first down more consistently would help tremendously. GO CHIEFS!!!

  • kcdt58rip

    the only comment here is get Knile Davis more toughes if he is productive add more and more (10-12 a game) this is the only reason JC25 has “lost a step” really tired and bad blisters on his feet (he claims the tea bags are working though) He will lose a step in 2015. This year and next he will be on top. If MVP means Most Valuable to your team – he is it period – sorry everyone else in the league. He is the threat.

  • chiefconcern

    The numbers may not show he is as good or better as the previous years, but you can still see the burst and the open field vision. When we stop seeing this than I’d be worried.

  • shannon

    Lost a step? Youtube Jammal Charles on Sports Science and that will answer that. He was extremely explosive last year coming off the ACL, he should only be rounding more into his old self. JC has routinely broke more tackles than any back I have seen this year by a large margin. His ypc is not down bc of too many carries, it is down bc lack of ANY ROOM to run. He has had so many quality runs just to make it back to the line of scrimmage. The holes that he is running through are barely holes at all, it becomes evident not all holes are created equally, once you watch practically any other NFL team running the ball. If the o-line can just improve marginally, JC will be back around 6 ypc again.

    • Lyle Graversen

      Look JC is still really fast, no doubt about it. However, he could still be 90% what he was in 2010 and still be one of the faster backs in the NFL.

  • redchiefs

    No, the O line’s been struggling….. can’t run or protect QB…..at times. Now, at times the O line is doing well, they can run left most times, but with right side struggling it’s easy for a D to overload to the left. Alex Smith doesn’t run if he is protected, all but about 20 – 30% of his rushes are from scrambling dues to lack of protection. I do think 20 – 30% of his scrambles are because receivers are covered. He has had terrible blisters this year so if he appears to lose a step it’s from that, but, in my opinion is struggles in the running game are the O line’s struggles.

  • Jim Harper

    Lyle, I am normally a big fan of your insightful posts, but I have never been a fan of people who use stats to determine a players value. Now I know there has to be a certain amount of that, but stats don’t show things like a guys heart, work ethic, and leadership. The one thing I do know is I have complete faith in both Reid and Dorsey. I am sure they have their reasons for playing the guys where they are, and when a team is undefeated I would be hardpressed to find fault with what they are doing. Furthermore there are no statistics that measure the character of a team, but I know this team has great character., and I don’t recall seeing anyone run down Charles from behind.

  • e_racer

    He looks plenty fast to me. No, JC has not lost a step. He looks even more explosive, and is a more powerful runner than in the past. Charles just needs to get the right situation. He could break Denver’s back Sunday. I expect the Chiefs to run it on the Broncos.

  • jimfromkcj

    Lyle, I think you are right on about Charles. too many people and a lot of coachs believe that running backs are just plug ins and if you run one in the ground you just go out and sign another one. This may be so in most cases, but Charles is not your run of the mill running back. He has the capability to be thought of in the same way as all the great running backs of the past. But I have been saying for 3 or 4 years that the Chiefs were doing the right thing by keeping his touchs down. Andy seems to place more value in winning games now rather than building for the future in an orderly way. I can see his predicament and why he is placing so much effort to win now. Next year is going to be a nightmare for Dorsey. He is right up against the cap and the core players who were drafted by Herm’s regime is going to start to go down hill. They are paying Flowers, Hali, Bowe, Jackson and some others more than their production warrents, but it will be hard to replace them. Also you have Albert and Houston that will have to be dealt with. so this is a year that Andy has to go for broke if he is going to continue to build a winning team.

  • reboho

    Are you referring to the same JC that has literally put this team on his back in the 4th quarter in more than one game this year? As far as K. Davis, he’d get more touches if he proves he can hang on to it. Charles appears to be self-pacing because of the defense stacking early in the game and when they wear down coming up big in the 4th quarter when we need yards and 1st downs. I like your approach but examine the stats of Charles in the 4th quarter and see if he is still “losing a step”. I say he is just as strong in the 4th as the 1st but the defense isn’t and he can take advantage. He’s not losing a step, he’s stepping it up in the 4th quarter.

  • http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/community/profile/index.jsp?ipid=14872822 upperturion

    Stats, pitty-pats, willy-wacks… What we’re seeing is classic Hank Stram……..I mean, Andy Reid. Me thinks there’s gonna be some new wrinkles administered this week.