Chiefs Are Starving Charles

All week long, running back Jamaal Charles was the hot topic in Kansas City. Larry Johnson was suspended, Charles was slated to start against the Jacksonville Jaguars, fans were excited and ready for something fresh in the backfield. After Johnson's 2.7 yards per carry and zero touchdowns in 2009, change was good.

Head coach Todd Haley talked up Charles during last week's press conferences. Charles himself bubbled about the opportunity to finally start and be featured. The stage was set for a young player to prove himself.

On three of the first four plays of Sunday's game, the Chiefs put the ball in Charles' hands. He gained 22 yards. It certainly appeared as if Haley planned to feature Charles and then, without warning, everything ground to a halt.

After three touches in four plays (which led to a field goal), Charles only saw the ball six more times the rest of the game. The Chiefs went several series without making an attempt to put the ball in his hands. After the beginning of the game, Charles waited until there were 35 seconds left in the first half for his next touch.

Instead of handing the ball to Charles, the Chiefs rolled out an old Kansas City "favorite," running back by committee. Kolby Smith, Dantrell Savage and even fullback Mike Cox received touches. All told, KC's backs combined for 18 touches and produced 84 yards. Not awful by any stretch of the imagination, and no one was missing Johnson or his 2.7 yards per carry. Running back by committee averaged over four yards per carry.

But what good did it really do? The Chiefs failed to move the ball with much success until the game was well out of reach in the fourth quarter. Until Matt Cassel started throwing desperate bombs to Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers, Kansas City's longest drive covered only 39 yards. Haley's offense produced five three-and-out series and, at one point, punted four consecutive times. It was pathetic offense.

Should we really be surprised when the gameplanning is equally pathetic?

After Tennessee's Chris Johnson scorched the Jaguars for 228 yards rushing a week ago, the Chiefs should have done everything in their power to feature Charles Sunday in Jacksonville. There was no reason to give him only nine touches (and just six carries) in a game that was close almost the entire way. Not only are Charles and Johnson possessive of similar skill sets, the Chiefs themselves apparently desired to capitalize on their similarities.

Haley revealed before Sunday's game that assistant head coach Maurice Carthon prepared a tape of Johnson for Charles to watch earlier this season. Doesn't that scream that the Chiefs would like nothing more than for Charles to be just like Johnson? They see the potential in him to produce in a similar manner. Why else bother with the tape? Why bother starting him in Larry Johnson's absence if you don't feel he's your top back?

But if all that is true, how do you explain Sunday's game, where Charles was starved for touches despite doing nothing wrong (other than muffing a kickoff return)? It boggles the mind. The Chiefs are desperate for playmakers, give the fastest, most talented running back on their team the start, and then ignore him for large chunks of the game. Even worse, they hand the ball to players with less talent.

Savage and Smith, while they certainly aren't without talent, don't even begin to compare to Charles. You can talk about raw timed speed all you want, but even on the field, they haven't produced in the same manner. The longest play of Savage's NFL career? Twelve yards. Smith's career best? Nineteen yards.

Haley's only explanation for his lack of commitment to the running game Sunday was to offer up a vague and brief statement about the defensive looks the Jaguars were showing Kansas City, citing run blitzes as a reason the Chiefs called 44 passes against 12 runs. But when he turns right around and starts complaining about negative plays, it's almost hypocritical. Every negative play the Chiefs had Sunday came via the passing game.

Again, in a close contest, why abandon the running game? Even worse, why abandon the playmaker with the most potential? Charles ripped off over 100 yards last year in the only game he was featured, carried the load at Texas as a senior and has stayed healthy this season. He's ready for more.

Sunday's game was reminiscent of an era Chiefs fans would just as soon forget. It wasn't so long ago that Jimmy Raye was calling plays for Kansas City and handing the ball to three backs instead of one – who can forget the plodding ways of Bam Morris and Donnell Bennett? Raye wasted time splitting touches between backs when he should have been handing the ball mostly to Tony Richardson, who actually led the entire AFC in yards per touch a year after Morris was dumped from the team and Bennett was dumped to the bench.

Guess which running back is leading the Chiefs in yards per touch this season? The same player who could barely buy a touch in Jacksonville Sunday. At the pace he's currently on, Charles won't come close to equaling the numbers he put up as a rookie and complementary piece in Chan Gailey's 2008 offense, and that's a shame considering the lack of playmakers in Kansas City. The Chiefs should be wearing Charles out trying to find ways to move the ball on offense.

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. All season long, Haley has struggled to find opportunities for Dwayne Bowe to catch the football while Johnson, the NFL's least productive runner, was fed carries with regularity. Waiver-wire pickups (Lance Long, Bobby Wade, Chris Chambers) become Playmaker Of The Week after skimming Haley's playbook for a few days. There's little logic in the way the ball is distributed within Kansas City's offense.

Charles doesn't have a Twitter account, so we won't know if he's upset over all this. But everyone else who follows the Chiefs is.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories