Jamaal Charles is the latest game-breaker to highlight a storied fraternity of Kansas City Chiefs running backs. But this season, the Chiefs have made a habit out of dropping the ball—the trend continues with the reluctance to call Charles' number.
Nationally, No. 25 doesn't receive as much praise as his production warrants. He's the face of a historically bad, small-market team—two longtime villains of exposure in the world of sports.
Today, media members are affiliated pawns in a numbers game, and shock jocks are living proof that controversy sells. Ratings are puppeteers pulling strings behind the scenes. When a show finds itself hanging on by a thread, dignity becomes expendable and welcomes a polarizing makeover.
Ratings are the reason ESPN's First Take brightened the spotlight on somebody who screams (Tim) Tebow's name in overzealous tones (they're also the reason why you watch 10 seconds of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and blame The Learning Channel for making you instantly dumber).
So, unless the round-table chatters with fantasy football talk, players like Jamaal Charles rarely make a blip on the sports radar—fantasy points glue the only link of relevance between small-market athletes and big-market fans.
NFL coverage would lead one to believe that running backs of Charles' caliber come and go, but his stats are in a league of their own.
People Lie, Numbers Don't
"Who's the best running back of all time?"
From the balancing acts of Jim Brown to the joystick agility of Barry Sanders, the above question normally sprouts a wide range of answers. It's hard to argue with most of the popular choices, considering that the majority of top-tier Hall of Fame tailbacks retired with untarnished legacies.
Jamaal Charles' name would be rightfully scoffed at if thrown into the discussion.
But one statistic—yards per carry—will raise a few eyebrows. Take a glimpse at how Charles stacks up against gridiron icons when handed the ball:
Yes, Jamaal Charles of the 1-8 Kansas City Chiefs is currently the NFL's all-time leader in yards per rush (minimum of 500 attempts). And it's not even close.
The most impressive detail of Charles' feat is that he has averaged a shade under six yards per attempt despite a nonexistent passing game.
Aerial attacks are luxuries for running backs. Matt Schaub's 13 passing touchdowns keep defensive coordinators second-guessing in the red zone, thus taking pressure off of Arian Foster. With Joe Flacco slinging strikes that average 7.5 yards per attempt, defenses hesitate to stack the box against Ray Rice.
The Chiefs' backfield blur isn't so lucky. This season, Matt Cassel hasn't posted half the amount of touchdowns that the aforementioned Schaub has, and his passes are averaging a full yard less than Flacco's. The longest completion for Kansas City's quarterback is 46 yards, ranking 33rd in a 32-team league.
In fact, Cassel only cracks the top 25 in one significant category amongst his peers: interceptions (his 18 picks are tied for second).
Week after week, Charles lines up on a lonely island, waiting to be ambushed by blitzing reinforcements.
Addition by Subtraction
When Charles' carries decrease, Kansas City quickly loses an uphill battle in scoring differential.
The key to offensive play-calling is doubling down on your advantages, exploiting the defense's weaknesses and finding the perfect balance between rushing the ball and airing it out. When Brian Daboll places more weight on the passing game, the scales never tip in Kansas City's favor, and the opponent comes out on top sooner than later.
Simply put, the Chiefs' success teeters on how frequently their Pro Bowl running back touches the ball.
This year, Charles has only cradled 20 or more handoffs in three of Kansas City's nine games. In those three contests, the Chiefs have averaged a minus-three margin of defeat (and captured the team's only win). In the remaining six losses—including two Sundays of single-digit carries—the margin surpasses double digits, resting at minus-17.8.
But the misuse isn't exclusive to 2012. It's a recurring trend.
The ankle-breaker has never topped 230 rushes in any of his five seasons. To paint how conservative that number is, Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson finished with five combined 300-plus-carry campaigns during their tenure at Arrowhead. Johnson, a weekly workhorse during his prime, dwarfed hefty expectations by charging toward the line of scrimmage 416 times in 2006.
As great as Holmes and Johnson were, Kansas City's current open-field trickster is a superior rushing threat.
Back when Trent Green and Tony Gonzalez headlined a respectable passing game, the Chiefs still never shied away from feeding their star rusher(s). But for unknown reasons, that train of thought derailed when drafting the Mach 25 tailback out of Texas.
Jamaal Charles' lack of carries is borderline criminal.
Coincidentally, a law firm—BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who averages 3.4 yards per rush on two more attempts than Charles—presents Exhibit A as to why.
Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com.