Chiefs Offense Has Found Blueprint for Success with Jamaal Charles

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Chiefs Offense Has Found Blueprint for Success with Jamaal Charles
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs clinched a spot in the playoffs with their 56-31 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

Just a year removed from the worst season in franchise history according to point differential (-214), the Chiefs achieved something with two games left that many didn't think was even possible this season: the playoffs. 

The story on Sunday wasn't about the team's playoff feat but about the record-breaking performance from its Pro Bowl running back, Jamaal Charles

Early in the season, all the talk was about the Chiefs defense, and questions arose on whether the offense would be enough for them to make any noise in the playoffs.

Those questions haven't fully been answered yet, but most Chiefs fans would tell you they feel more comfortable with the offense than the defense right now. 

Chiefs' offensive and defense numbers since Week 10
OFF PPG DEF PPG
First 9 games 23.8 12.3
Last 5 games 37.0 28.8

NFL.com

One of the big reasons the offense has excelled over the past four games has been the play of Charles. 

In the Chiefs' five games since the bye week, Charles has 722 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns.

But it was his eight-catch, 195-yard, four-touchdown receiving day against the Raiders that showed the rest of the NFL the blueprint for success for the Chiefs offense. 

This is the Chiefs offense that could make some noise in the playoffs. 

 

Charles' record-breaking numbers

The final line for Charles against the Raiders was eight carries for 20 yards with one rushing touchdown and eight catches for 195 yards and four receiving touchdowns. 

Here are just a few bullet points from Charles' record-breaking performance.

  • Charles became the first running back in NFL history to catch four or more touchdowns in a single game.
  • Only three players in NFL history have scored more touchdowns in a single game.
  • Ties Chiefs record for most touchdowns in a game.
  • Ranks fifth all-time in yards receiving by a running back in a single game in NFL history.

Charles would agree with the notion that he's getting stronger as we near the end of the regular season, via Reid Ferrin of KCChiefs.com

I’m just getting in the groove of football. Some people find their peak at the beginning of the season, some people find their peak at the end of the season; I’m known as a player that as the season goes on, I get stronger and stronger.

 

Charles as a receiver

After his big day against the Raiders, Charles is now the Chiefs' leading receiver on the season. He's the team leader in receptions (65), targets (98), yards (655) and touchdowns (7). 

It's not a surprise to anyone by now that Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith's strength is not throwing the football vertically down the field.

But from an offensive game plan perspective, if you're able to pick up large chunks of yardage by dumping it off to the running back, isn't that a better, safer option?

You're still getting the big plays offensively without taking the risk of turning the ball over. It would seem to fit right into Smith's plan anyway. 

 

Film room

What made the Chiefs' use of Charles in the passing game so effective was that all four of these touchdown passes came on different looks. 

The first touchdown reception came on the first offensive play of the game. 

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

The Chiefs were in 11 personnel (one running back, red arrow; one tight end, yellow arrow; and three receivers, white squares) and had both receivers, Dwayne Bowe and Junior Hemingway, stacked inside. 

The tight end is going to clear out the safety by running a 9-route. Bowe is going to run a hook in the middle of the field, and Hemingway is going to slant across the middle. 

What really sets this play up is that Charles doesn't just wait a couple of counts and then sneak off to the outside to catch the screen pass. He sets up the defenders by motioning in as if he's going to block pressure coming in the A gap and probably gets lost by the linebackers in the process. 

As you can see in the third picture, Charles (red arrow) has come inside, and the two linebackers have their eyes in the backfield. Many times players can sniff out these screens early because the running back doesn't set it up very well.

Charles does enough to let the offensive linemen get to the second level and get their hands on the defenders. 

Once he gets to the open field, he's gone. 

The second touchdown also came in 11 personnel, but the Chiefs spread it out this time. The Chiefs are facing 3rd-and-19 from the Raiders 39-yard line. 

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

As you can see, the Chiefs are spread out in what would be considered a "base" 11-personnel look from the shotgun formation. 

The Chiefs run a screen back to the closed side of the formation (where the tight end is) by sneaking Charles through the box and coming back to the opposite side of where he was initially lined up. 

Charles makes a fantastic one-handed catch in the open field, and as you can see from the third picture, there was a whole lot of daylight ahead of him once he made the catch. Charles doesn't need much to make a big play, and when you give him this much open space, it's all too easy.

In the fourth picture, you can see left guard Jeff Allen blocking 19 yards down the field, which allows Charles to make one less move in the open field before he scores his second touchdown. 

The third receiving touchdown of the game for Charles came from a 21-personnel look. 

NFL Rewind - BJ Kissel

This time the Chiefs split out tight end Sean McGrath to the left side of the formation, which should be some kind of key that they may try to get Charles in space to this side of the formation with a tight end blocking for him. 

The Chiefs fake the dive with Charles and lead-blocker Anthony Sherman and then flip it to him out in the flat with plenty of blockers and space in front of him. 

This is an example of using the 21-personnel package (two backs, one tight end) and getting the players in positions to be successful. 

It's easy to say the Raiders should have known they were throwing it to Charles, but the Chiefs were doing a good job of window-dressing the plays they were running to get Charles in space. It's not as if they lined up in similar formations and ran similar plays. 

The first two plays were out of the shotgun, and each had its own movements to get Charles in space. The first had him dive inside as if he were blocking while the second brought him across the formation after the snap. 

Then this third play was a play-action screen from under center inside the red zone. 

The fourth touchdown came on a completely different personnel package and formation. 

NFL Rewind

The Chiefs are in a heavy 22-personnel package with two running backs and two tight ends. Both of the tight ends are in line in three-point stances on each side. 

It's 3rd-and-short and the Chiefs fake the stretch to the outside with fullback Anthony Sherman.

Hemingway (white square) is to run a 9-route, and Charles is coming up right behind him on the wheel route.

Because Hemingway cleared first, it left the linebacker on Charles on the wheel route. Smith makes a great throw down the field and along the sideline, and then it's all about Charles' ability in the open field.

He breaks back inside after the catch for the 71-yard touchdown reception.

 

Blueprint for Chiefs' success

If the Chiefs are going to make some noise in the playoffs, it's going to be on the back of Charles. Their offense is dependent on his ability to make plays in the open field.

If not for Peyton Manning having an all-time season at quarterback for the Denver Broncos, there'd probably be more support for Charles and the MVP award. 

But Chiefs coach Andy Reid summed it up well regarding Charles, via Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star.

I don’t know how anybody can be more valuable to a team.

The Chiefs' dependence on Charles isn't a surprise to anyone, including opposing defenses. 

But if the Chiefs can continue to do a good job of window-dressing their plays to get Charles in the open field and find even more creative ways to get Charles the ball in space, their chances at winning in the playoffs will be better.

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There are only so many plays in any given team's playbook, especially if you're talking about plays specifically tailored for one player or position.

Teams will run the same plays or concepts from a variety of personnel packages and formations. The Chiefs could look to do the same with these plays that found success against the Raiders. 

Whomever the Chiefs play in the first round of the playoffs will have this tape against the Raiders, and they'll have an idea of what the Chiefs want to do. Everyone knows the Chiefs are going to try to get Charles the ball. That's the blueprint for them in simple terms.   

How they try to get him the ball is the question. The Chiefs will need to find out what personnel packages and formations put a linebacker on Charles or any other combination they feel gives them an advantage. Then it's just a matter of executing the play.

The Chiefs face the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday, a team they may very well face in the playoffs. If the Chiefs have more creative ways to get Charles the ball, you shouldn't expect to see it on Sunday.

They'll probably save that for the playoffs.  

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