On paper, 83 yards rushing doesn’t sound bad. Top 10 rushing teams average 125 yards a game or better. Most teams run some form of a two-man platoon at tailback these days, so if the top dog pulls down 83, his backup only needs 42. Any additional ground yardage from reverses or broken pass plays is icing on the cake.
When the starter needs 22 touches to get that 81 yards, however, it doesn’t sound good.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Thomas Jones. He’s the third best skill position player on Kansas City’s offense right now. I’m just not sure why he’s starting. He doesn’t move the chains the way a starting running back should. First string tailbacks usually average a 1st down every four carries – 25%. Jones’s career average is 19.4%. Jamaal Charles’s, on the other hand, is 27.6%. That disparity, applied to a starter’s workload of 300 to 350 carries, equals 24 to 28 1st downs over the course of a season. That’s far too many to leave on the bench.
Strong offenses can neutralize some of that sort of disparity in the passing game. With a quarterback averaging a sub-Byron Leftwich 122 yards per game, there isn’t much hope for that with the Chiefs. Today’s game illustrates a very simple, basic truth about the team: they can’t start both Matt Cassel and Thomas Jones and expect to score touchdowns.
A friend of mine from Baltimore once said this about the Ravens’ offense during Kyle Boller’s tenure (I’m paraphrasing here, because this has been easily five years): “Brian Billick once went 4-0 without scoring a touchdown on offense, and he liked it so much he decided he’d try it every month.” The Chiefs sit at 2-0 by the grace of solid defense and special teams play, but I can’t say that I expect it to last. I don’t. There isn’t a Ray Lewis or a Tony Siragusa on this squad to stop bigger running backs. Peyton Hillis demonstrated that today, just as Mike Tolbert did last week. Once teams discover this weakness and begin to exploit it, I foresee a fair amount of heartbreak on the horizon.
The solution, of course, is simple: outscore the other team. It’s the very most basic principle of any sport. The team with more points tends to win. As with the offense during the Vermeil era, don’t expect the defense to carry the team. Todd Haley has to figure out some way other than pick-sixes and punt returns to score. The best way is to put the ball in the hands of the team’s best players. For the Chiefs, that player is not Thomas Jones. It’s Jamaal Charles.
Whether or not this is an issue of a coach’s ego, as jilted ex-Star reporter Jason Whitlock has stated, is of no concern to me at this juncture. It’s not a theory without merit, but I’ll save my speculation for sometime other than immediately after a win.
Whitlock will no doubt justify his errant prediction of the outcome of this game as the consequence of a subpar opponent playing with a subpar backup quarterback (I happen to like Seneca Wallace, but that’s another discussion altogether), just as he justified his errant prediction of Week 1′s game the outcome of inclement weather. This too is not a theory without merit, but by the same token, subpar offense or not, this was another solid performance by an emerging defense. Romeo Crennel, no doubt motivated to some extent by a desire for vindication, has coached this group – nearly the same unit Clancy Pendergast had a year ago – into a solid, cohesive unit with a propensity for overcoming its inherent flaws. In every aspect of play they’re a little better than they were last season, and they’re no longer playing as if the whole was less than the sum of their parts. It’s been a long while since I could say what I’m about to say: it’s fun to watch the Chiefs on defense again.
In particular, it’s fun to watch Derrick Johnson play somewhere in the ballpark of his potential. Maybe it’s nothing more than customary contract year elevation of play, but I’d like to think it’s something more. I’d like to think that the new coach – one whose skills are more commensurate to Johnson’s – has him motivated to play better for the sake of playing better. With such a limited sample to work with, it’s hard to judge whether or not the change is permanent; thus, it’s hard for me to say whether or not I want Johnson back next season. For now, I’m just content to enjoy the ride.
Matt Cassel continues to be an embarrassment. I haven’t looked at enough stats from this week to discern whether or not he’ll move out of his lowly position of 33rd best passer in the NFL, but I do know this: aside from one decent drive in the second half, he played as poorly as (if not worse than) he did last week. His highest realistic aspiration this season may be to move out of the 30s. It’s time to start Brodie Croyle. I don’t care about his injury history. If games are to be won, a better signal caller must be at the helm. This year’s “Fire ______” at the end of each of my articles has been dedicated thus far to Tyler Palko, but I’m not above making a midseason switch. If today’s performance is in any way indicative of how Cassel intends to play out the season, I’ll be doing just that.
This is a win to be happy about, but not one to be proud of. San Diego’s pedigree is proven. Cleveland’s lack thereof is also. Kansas City looks closer to being a good team than most anybody would have expected, but right now the lion’s share of points isn’t coming courtesy of the side of the ball from which it’s should. This is not a small matter, and should not be treated as such. Quarterbacks are difficult to acquire midseason, and given the trade fodder it would require to acquire one of any consequence, it’s probably inadvisable for the Chiefs’ front office to even try. Long term answers on offense will be difficult to address until the offseason, but for now, focus on what might work in the short term: give the ball to Jamaal Charles. Give the ball to Jamaal Charles. Give the ball to Jamaal Charles.
Did I mention I’d like to see Jamaal Charles get more carries?