Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs: Meet the NFL's No. 1 Rushing Offense

Jack WinterCorrespondent IOctober 1, 2010

Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs: Meet the NFL's No. 1 Rushing Offense

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    Prior to Week Three's domination of the San Francisco 49ers, the Kansas City Chiefs hadn't shown enough on the offensive side of ball to be considered a legitimate contender despite the presence of dynamo running back Jamaal Charles.

    In wins over AFC West rival San Diego and on the road at Cleveland, the Chiefs' offense managed only 23 points (seven of which came on a short field).

    QB Matt Cassel was a clear liability in both games, passing for only 244 yards and completing an embarrassing 26 of 50 passes.  KC was effective running the football, but fans were unhappy with the distribution of carries between RBs Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, demanding more touches for the latter.  Chiefs WRs were non-existent, and an anonymous rookie tight end was the team's leading receiver.

    WR/RB Dexter McCluster, a game-breaking player who returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown against SD, had four offensive touches and managed only 12 yards.  After two weeks, it appeared KC had regressed under renowned offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

    In a 31-point drubbing of the respected San Francisco defense last Sunday, that all changed.

    Cassel was accurate and efficient, passing for 250 yards and three scores.  Charles accounted for 154 yards on 15 touches, and Jones had 19 bruising carries for 95 yards and his first touchdown as a Chief.  WR Dwayne Bowe caught a perfectly thrown 45-yard touchdown pass off a nifty flea-flicker, and TE Tony Moeaki continued his strong play with a highlight-reel, one-handed catch in the back of the end zone.

    McCluster lined up all over the field, catching three passes for 69 electrifying yards, garnering his first offensive score and serving as the ultimate decoy.  OC Weis lived up to his reputation, mixing and matching different types of runs, passes, and screens to drive his offense up and down the field all game long.

    While the Chiefs are far from an offensive juggernaut, their performance against the 49ers' defense showed they have the horses to be an effective, opportunistic, and exciting offensive team.

    KC's calling-card this season will undoubtedly remain its stingy defense and explosive special teams play.  If Cassel and company can build on Week Three's impressive showing, the Chiefs will no longer be questioned as "pretender or contender."  

    Rather, head coach Todd Haley's team will be taken seriously as a legitimate 2010 post-season threat, and considered the league's most promising young team.  Meet the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense.


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    Matt Cassel, QB: Acquired via trade from the New England Patriots in 2009, Cassel has had a tumultuous beginning to his career as a Kansas City Chief.  Anointed the franchise's "QB of the future," he has much to prove in 2010 if he is to live up to that lofty billing.

    In his first year as a starter in 2008, Cassel showed immense potential, passing for 3693 yards and 21 touchdowns, rare numbers for such an inexperienced player.  Due to Kansas City's lack of offensive talent last season, anyone expecting him to duplicate those numbers in 2009 was unrealistic.  Not even the most pessimistic Chiefs fans, though, expected Cassel to struggle his way to as many interceptions as touchdowns and a 69.9 QB rating in his first year as KC's starter.

    After the first two weeks of the 2010 season, it appeared as though Cassel had regressed from his poor 2009 form.  He was inaccurate, indecisive, and showed little in the way of skill that would indicate future success.  Many in Kansas City were calling for him to be benched in favor of backup Brodie Croyle, a fragile player who is winless in his career as an NFL starter.

    With a great performance against San Francisco, Cassel not only quieted his many critics, but perhaps salvaged his career in KC.  Against 49ers MLB Patrick Willis and company, he completed 16 of 27 throws for 250 yards and three scores, posting a stellar QB rating of 111.6.

    Still, Cassel was far from perfect in Week Three, and showed why many feel he is ultimately nothing more than a stopgap in KC.

    Not terribly accurate or strong-armed, the ball sometimes flutters on Cassel.  This is especially evident when he throws deep, as he overthrows receivers downfield more often than hitting them in stride.  Additionally, Cassel has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, which last season led to an inordinate amount of QB sacks.  In that same vein, he struggles in progressions, often locking in on his initial target and missing better options.

    Cassel's most positive attribute is undoubtedly his strong leadership ability.  Well liked by his teammates, he is one of the team's most fiery and animated players in times of success.  Additionally, HC Todd Haley consistently lauds Cassel for his unwavering desire to improve and rare work ethic.  Also, although new to the community, he is known in Kansas City for his nice-guy persona and enthusiastic willingness to make the metro a better place.

    On the field, Cassel is a good athlete for a QB his size, showing quick feet and good straight line speed.  More importantly, he has the uncanny ability to stand in the pocket, take a hit and recover in time for the next play.  Throwing the football, Cassel is relatively accurate in short and intermediate routes and possesses adequate arm strength.

    There is no reason why Matt Cassel can't be a game-managing QB of a run-oriented playoff team like the Chiefs.  While that may not be what GM Scott Pioli hoped for or expected when acquiring him, if Cassel plays to his potential he will far from doom KC, and could help the team to an unexpected playoff berth in 2010.

    Brodie Croyle, QB: Taken in the third round of the 2006 NFL draft, Croyle is an incredibly injury-prone player, having never been active for a full 16 games.  He had an extended period as KC's starting QB in 2007, and posted statistics similar to those of Cassel last season, though he never led the Chiefs to a victory.  Blessed with strong natural tools, Croyle has an above-average arm and a very quick release.  He sometimes struggles with touch and accuracy, not knowing when to put less zip on the ball to make it more catchable for his target.

    Croyle is a talented thrower and has a strong contingent of Chiefs fans in his corner.  Many believe that if not for Cassel's lucrative contract, he would be the Chiefs' starter and thrive in the role.  While his past hasn't indicated any potential of future success, KC's season wouldn't be over if he was forced to take over for an injured Cassel. 

    Others: Tyler Palko (Practice Squad)

Running Backs

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    Jamaal Charles, RB: Drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft, when given the opportunity Charles has consistently proven his mettle as a dynamic, explosive NFL RB.

    Possessing world-class speed, great agility, rare balance, and sublime vision, Charles is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.  Despite his diminutive size (5'11'', 199), he is a tough back and runs with noticeable ferocity, never going down easy.  Charles is also a gifted pass-catcher, consistently showing off soft hands in the passing game.  He has improved drastically in blitz pickup since becoming more than a bit player, an aspect in which Coach Haley deemed vital in the offseason.

    If Charles has a problem, it is his considerable zeal for always making the big play.  He often reverses field and abandons the initial hole in hopes of springing an explosive play, sometimes resulting in unnecessary negative plays.  Additionally, in the past he has had trouble with fumbles, though he seems to have rectified that problem.

    Jamaal Charles is perhaps the most underrated RB in the NFL.  In only 34 carries this season, he has rushed for 238 yards, the seventh best total in the league.  Additionally, he leads all NFL backs in yards per carry, averaging an impressive seven yards a rush.  As the season wears on and the Chiefs push for a playoff berth, Charles' touches should increase, and he will undoubtedly be amongst the league's leading runners at year's end.

    Thomas Jones, RB: An 11-year veteran out of Virginia, Jones is one of the NFL's most consistent and productive backs, having rushed for over 1000 yards in every season since 2005.

    Acquired in the offseason via free agency, Jones is a strong runner at 5' 10'' and a muscled 212 pounds.  He shows exceptional patience running the football, waiting for lanes to develop and hitting them with adequate straight line speed.  Jones has quick feet, often shuffling from one spot to the next to gain additional yardage.  Additionally, he is a great asset in goal-line and short-yardage situations, as Jones is one of the NFL's best at leaping over the pile to get a necessary yard (like he did to seal the victory in Week Two against Cleveland).

    Jones is clearly not the home-run threat that Charles is, and also is not a legitimate threat in the passing game.  Whether a positive or negative aspect of his game, Jones always runs to the proper hole even if it means at best a minimal gain.  

    Thomas Jones is one of the Chiefs' most respected players and a vocal veteran presence in the locker room.  KC's leading ball carrier with 52 rushes this season, Jones is averaging a respectable 4.2 yards per carry in 2010.  While Charles may deserve more carries, the Chiefs aren't exactly in bad hands when he has the football.  Jones will prove an invaluable asset to KC's quest for a playoff berth this season, as his effect on the Chiefs looms larger than what he does on the field.

Wide Receivers

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    Dwayne Bowe, WR: KC's first round draft pick in 2007, Bowe is one of the most inconsistent and frustrating players on the Chiefs roster.  

    At 6' 2", 221, Bowe has exceptional size for a WR.  Though he doesn't have elite straight line speed, Bowe is a gifted athlete who thrives making plays after the catch.  A great leaper, he has consistently shown an ability to rise over defenders and win jump balls.  He has naturally strong hands, and is capable of softly plucking the ball from outside his frame and making the catch.  Additionally, he is a willing blocker, having accumulated a handful of crushing blocks in the run game already this season.

    For all of Bowe's natural talent, he has underachieved in his short time in league.  Since Haley took over in Kansas City, the former Dallas WRs Coach has made getting the most out of his best receiver one of his top priorities.  With that in mind, Bowe was benched at the beginning of last season, and derided by Haley when on the field for his sloppy routes and inconsistent hands.  As 2009 wore on, though, Bowe seemed to warm to Haley's tactics and his play improved.

    The 2010 season is meant to be a turning point in Dwayne Bowe's career.  After a great training camp, this season is when he will either realize his potential as legitimate No. 1 wideout or remain content a talented but inconsequential player.  As the combination of Cassel and Bowe go, so goes the Chiefs passing attack.  If Bowe starts to live up to his talent, he'll add a dynamic weapon to the offense in Kansas City.

    Chris Chambers, WR: A midseason acquisition in 2009, Chambers quickly emerged as Cassel's favorite target in the second half of last year.

    A 10-year veteran, Chambers has lost the deep speed that made him one of the league's most dangerous downfield threats in the early 2000s.  Still, he is an effective player for the Chiefs as he runs crisp routes, rarely drops the football and has enough speed left to keep defenses honest.  He's also proven to be a threat making plays after the catch with his feet.

    In the advanced stages of his career, Chambers often struggles getting separation from defenders and seems to have lost a step since even last season.  After a stellar second half for KC last year in which he caught 36 passes for 608 yards, he's yet to show similar ability in 2010.

    White its far too early to write him off for the season, the Chiefs need him to regain the form that made him such a pleasant surprise last year.  If he does, pressure on Bowe and the run game will ease and KC will have an opportunity for great success on offense.

    Dexter McCluster, WR: Already a fan-favorite in Kansas City, McCluster was taken 36th overall by the Chiefs in April's draft.

    One of the smallest players in the NFL at 5' 8'', 170, he makes up for it with a scintillating combination of quickness, agility, and speed.  Perhaps even more explosive than Charles, McCluster has soft hands and has been a real asset on screens in 2010.  Stronger than his size suggests, he can take a hit and is a willing downfield blocker.  McCluster's game-breaking ability was on display in Week One against San Diego, as he took a punt back 94 yards for a touchdown, ultimately sparking the Chiefs to victory.

    Obviously, McCluster's main problem is his extreme lack of size.  Additionally, he split time at both WR and RB in college, and as a result lacks refinement at either position.  

    Going forward, Dexter McCluster will become more and more involved in the KC offense.  Whether he makes his greatest impact at WR, RB, or RS will change on a game-to-game basis.  He is a player who defenses have to account for at all times, and as a result is one of KC's most valuable offensive players, even though his final 2010 statistics may not show it.

    Others: Terrence Copper, Jeremy Horne

Tight Ends and Fullbacks

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    Tony Moeaki, TE: The most pleasant surprise of the KC offense in 2010 is the surprising play of Moeaki, a third-round pick in April's draft.

    At 6' 3'', 252, Moeaki has good size for his position.  He's a fluid athlete with good speed, and has been the Chiefs' most sure-handed receiver thus far in 2010.  Moeaki is also a gifted blocker, something rarely said about rookie TEs making their transition to the NFL.  

    Moeaki has shown little in the way of deficiencies in his short career.  So far, he's been a complete TE for the Chiefs, ranking as the team's leading receiver and serving as a physical presence in the run game.  Expect Tony Moeaki to be a force for KC in the future, as well as a vital off in their run to the 2010 playoffs.

    Leonard Pope, TE: Pope is an imposing presence on the field at 6' 8'', 264, and has been utilizes mostly as a blocker in 2010.  However, he showed good ball skills last year—his first with the Chiefs—in tallying 20 catches and a touchdown.  At the very least, Pope is a legitimate red zone presence and adequate blocker as No. 2 TE in the NFL.

    Tim Castille, FB:  Castille, a fourth-year pro out of Alabama, is utilized differently than the typical NFL FB.  A good runner and receiver, he gets a few touches a game as a runner or short receiver out of the backfield.  That is not to say Castille isn't a good blocker, though, as he is a big part of the Chiefs run game and is often on the field in obvious passing situations.  A versatile, hard-nosed player, KC got a steal when it signed Castille as a free agent in November 2009.

    Others: Jake O'Connell (TE), Mike Cox (FB)

Offensive Line

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    Branden Albert, LT: After a promising rookie campaign in 2008, Albert had a transitional year in his first season under Todd Haley.  The LT of an offensive line that surrendered 45 sacks last season, Albert lost more than 30 pounds prior to 2009, and had a tough time adjusting to his new body.  As the season wore on, however, he got more comfortable at his playing weight and ended the year strong.

    In 2010, Albert has played very well, not allowing a sack and serving as the driving force behind the team's outside rush game.  After a rough 2009, Albert is beginning to re-stake his claim as one of the league's best young LTs.

    Brian Waters, LG: A four-time Pro Bowl selection and the NFL Man of the Year in 2009, Waters has bounced back from a difficult season adjusting under Haley.  Initially unhappy with how he was being treated, Waters demanded a trade prior to last season.  After not getting his wish, he was sloppy and unmotivated in last year's first half.

    However, much like Albert, his play improved over the season's final few games.  In 2010, Waters has picked up where left off and been a key member of the NFL's best rushing attack.  KC's most physical blocker, Waters is not near the player he was a few seasons ago, but is still an above-average NFL guard.

    Casey Weigmann, C: A 15-year veteran in his second stint with the Chief, Weigmann is a very undersized offensive lineman at 6' 2'', 285.  He compensates for his lack of girth with quick hands, outstanding fundamentals and good feet.  While he's shown a tendency to get driven back in pass protection this season, he's adequate in the passing game as a whole and has been solid in the KC run game.

    Clearly not the long-term answer at C for the Chiefs, Weigmann is a steady presence on the OL that makes players around him better.

    Ryan Lilja, RG: A longtime starter for Peyton Manning and Indianapolis, Lilja signed with his hometown team in free agency over the offseason.  Much like Weigmann, the eight-year veteran overcomes his less than ideal size with quickness off the ball and understanding of leverage and angles.  He too is susceptible to bull rushes in pass protection, and struggles with larger defensive lineman.

    Lilja is only 28, and as an offensive lineman has several good seasons left in his career.  If he is good enough for Manning and the Colts, Lilja is certainly worthy of being a starter in KC at G for the next few seasons.

    Barry Richardson, RT: A mauler with great size, Richardson is a third-year pro filling in for the injured Ryan O'Callaghan.  After struggling mightily in game action last season, Richardson has clearly improved.  He has been good in the run game, consistently getting push at the line of scrimmage and setting the edge for outside runs.  Richardson, though, has fared worse in pass protection, committing multiple holding penalties and allowing a few hits on Cassel.  Still, he has payed well enough to create a "RT controversy" when O'Callaghan returns, and figures prominently into long-term plans on KC's offensive line.

    Jon Asamoah, G/T: A third-round pick of KC in April, Asamoah has seen playing time in 2010 when the Chiefs use an unbalanced line.  He's shown great power in run blocking and looked solid in pass protection during the preseason.  Asamoah is the presumed heir apparent to Waters at LG, and looks to have the makings of a solid NFL blocker.

    Others: Ryan O'Callaghan (injured), Rudy Niswanger (C)