Running back carries bulk of the load for NFL's last unbeaten team
Charles in charge for Kansas City Chiefs attack
Two seemingly incompatible sets of numbers accompany Kansas City Chiefs into the game of the year against Denver Broncos on Sunday: 9-0 and 24.
The Chiefs are perfect after nine games with a most imperfect offence, ranked 24th in the league.
All of that makes running back Jamaal Charles the most valuable player to this team — and perhaps the most essential player, non-quarterback division, to any team.
As the Chiefs’ premier rusher and top receiver based on catches, Charles has accounted for half of their touchdowns and 37 per cent of their yards on offence. Nobody else in the NFL has surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
Yet Charles rarely appears on highlight reels, having recorded only one run longer than 20 yards. He does occupy much of the game film watched during Chiefs meetings, given all of his touches and what he makes out of them.
“I mean, he is our offence,” Geoff Schwartz, one of the starting offensive tackles, told Fox Sports Kansas City. “He can catch the ball, he can run in space ... So it’s super-impressive.”
This is a new and improved Charles since a torn anterior cruciate ligament wiped out nearly all of his 2011 season.
What once was a career-jeopardising injury can be overcome — case in point, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson — yet the Chiefs burdened Charles upon his return last year with a huge responsibility to compensate for spotty quarterback play. He held up amazingly well.
Charles should have chaired the welcoming committee for new coach Andy Reid, who sent running backs largely on pass plays while at Philadelphia Eagles.
“He’s capable of doing the same things [Brian] Westbrook did, [LeSean] McCoy did as far as the passing game,” Reid said upon arriving in Kansas City.
Thus Reid redesigned the offence behind new quarterback Alex Smith, whose assets lean more toward ball control and turnover avoidance.
Smith does not effectively throw deep and is hardly a threat to run. Hence, Charles hears his number called often in the huddle for short passes as well as the usual volume of handoffs.
“I know anytime the ball is in my hands, I can make something happen,” Charles said. “All I need is a little crease.”
He needs little rest. Charles is on the field for at least 90 per cent of snaps in most games, and his blockers detect no fatigue.
“He hits the hole so dang fast,” Kansas City tight end Sean McGrath said. “He’s a blur. All he needs is a little bit [of space], and he’s scooting through.”
Charles has gained football immortality even if he never plays another down. The league recognises career highs in average yards per rush only with a minimum of 750 carries.
Last season, when he hit the threshold, the incomparable Jim Brown held the record at 5.2, set in 1967.
Charles’s average, after 954 attempts, is 5.5. Now there is a number that fits with 9-0.