Jones & Charles: Something Fresh?

If we're to compare the Chiefs' signing of Thomas Jones to other free-agent signings around the league so far, it doesn't feel like a big deal. In fact, at two years and just $5 million, it wasn't a big deal at all, at least for Jones.

But for Chiefs fans, it might be a bigger deal than some have anticipated. That's because I believe Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles are about to show us something we haven't seen before – a two-back system that co-exists peacefully and productively.

Now you might be sitting there saying, "But, Wendler, don't you remember Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson?" That's entirely my point, actually. Holmes and Johnson never co-existed peacefully and productively as members of the same backfield. To be honest, they didn't even play together long enough to really give Chiefs fans a glimpse of what a dominating two-back system can yield.

Holmes and Johnson only shared carries in seven games during 2005. That means we never really saw what a pair of elite running backs can do late in the year, when an offense is at its most cohesive and defenses are worn down and frequently banged up. But even in those seven games, what might have been was altered by the approach the Chiefs took to a two-back system.

To put it bluntly, former head coach Dick Vermeil played favorites. The Chiefs operated under the belief that Holmes was the superior running back and that Johnson had to earn his way onto the field. It was a counterproductive game of NFL politics. For every series that Johnson was featured, Holmes received two.

The result – Johnson, the Chiefs' most potent offensive weapon that year, spend large amounts of time on the bench instead of contributing on the field. It's difficult to argue that the way Vermeil and offensive coordinator Al Saunders approached a two-back system that season was the most efficient method.

What is important to note, however, is that when the system actually worked – when both backs produced – the Chiefs were undefeated. Not only did they win games, they dominated them, as proved by a 27-7 thrashing of the Jets on opening day (Holmes and Johnson combined for 195 yards rushing) and a 30-20 victory over the Dolphins five weeks later (183 combined yards).

Can you imagine what might have happened had the Chiefs approached their two-back system with a more traditional, less political eye? Not only might Kansas City have won two games they narrowly lost during the stretch that featured both Holmes and Johnson, Holmes might have avoided a freak injury that sidelined him during a game in San Diego. To make a long story short, there's no way the 2005 Chiefs miss the playoffs by one game if Holmes stays healthy while Johnson is allowed to contribute more consistently.

That could be what we're in store for this season.

We already know Todd Haley won't play favorites between Charles and Jones. Unlike many of the Chiefs' recent free-agent pickups, Haley has no previous connection to Jones that might create favoritism (see Mike Brown). Furthermore, because Jones' NFL career is winding down (he'll be 32 in August) and the Chiefs surely want to develop the more explosive Charles as quickly as possible, it's probably a safe bet that he'll start most of the games next season.

But because we know – and the Chiefs certainly are aware – that Charles has a history of nagging injuries, and a history of putting the ball on the ground too much, it's not a stretch to say Jones will see his fair share of the carries. And because Charles is not suited for goal-line and short-yardage work, you can bet Jones will score his fair share of touchdowns.

Bottom line – there are good reasons to keep both backs on the field, and good reasons to yank both of them off the field. Neither appears to have the upper hand completely. What you end up with is two extremely talented backs being utilized in the best way possible. Charles stays fresh, Jones increases the effectiveness of Kansas City's offense by the goal line and on third-and-one, and most importantly, everyone stays fairly happy.

Will it lead to a winning season? Put it this way – the 2005 Chiefs had a terrible defense and a quarterback who only threw 17 touchdown passes. If the 2010 Chiefs improve their defensive personnel and Charlie Weis has a positive effect on Matt Cassel, a dominating running back tandem might just be enough to back Kansas City into the playoffs.

Too much homerism for March? More dramatic one-year turnarounds have happened in the NFL.

When you throw in the idea of the wildcat formation, a Kansas City defense that spends more time off the field, and a quarterback who desperately needs a consistent ground game to lean upon every week, quickly you begin to realize that the signing of Thomas Jones could be a much bigger deal than it appears at first glance. If everything works out, it will definitely be something we haven't seen before, whether it leads to the playoffs or not.

Next time: How the Chiefs may be following a league trend with the two-back system.

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