CLEVELAND - SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs by defensive back Eric Wright #21 of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 19 2010 in Cleveland Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Seems a lot of people are getting riled up about Jamaal Charles based on some comments 610 Sports' Nick Wright made on his show a few days ago. I'm not here to question that story. I don't know the truth behind it and I don't know the sources behind it, but I do trust that Wright wouldn't say those kinds of things if there wasn't a hint of truth to it. That's irrelevant for now.
What I'm more interested in is how that story has evolved from an isolated clash between a player and a coach to a story about whether Jamaal Charles is starting to fall out of favor with the Kansas City Chiefs' coaching staff and front office. If you ask me, I'm not ruling out the second possibility, but I think we have to be careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves and become too engrossed in conspiracy theory.
I'll detail a few reasons why I think it's too soon to overreact after the jump.
In our defense, there's some reason to be concerned. The Chiefs used a heavy dose of Thomas Jones to begin both the San Diego Chargers game and the Cleveland Browns game. So on the one hand, there is a question about whether Todd Haley and Charlie Weis and staff legitimately believe that Thomas Jones is the superior option. If they do, they need to get their heads examined. To another point, the Chiefs have distanced themselves from several players that come from the Herm Edwards / Carl Peterson era. While some players like Branden Albert, Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, and Tamba Hali (among others) have clearly won over the new regime, we have also seen players like Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page fall out of favor. I could also include Derrick Johnson's name in that mix, but it seems like he's finally out of the woods.
However, I always try to provide some perspective to these kinds of controversies, because people are often so hung up on choosing a position or a side that they will begin to use speculation as if it were fact. I'm not on any side right now. I believe Jamaal Charles is the superior back and needs to start getting more carries. However, I don't think it's fair just yet to say that Haley and staff have truly determined that Thomas Jones is the primary back and that Jamaal Charles is the backup. Here's a few reasons why:
1. It's only been two games. Two. One of those games was largely affected by rain, which completely altered the Chiefs' offensive gameplans. I don't know what Charlie Weis had in store for the Chargers game. It's quite possible that they wanted to pound the rock early with Thomas Jones and then give a heavy dose of Jamaal Charles once the defense loosened up a bit. Once the rain started pouring down and the Chiefs took an early lead, the objective changed to running the ball and holding on to the football. Jones is better suited for that. Still, the two backs ended up with an equal amount of carries. Against Cleveland, the game was all about ball control. A home run threat is fine, but when you're not worried about the other offense scoring points, it doesn't hurt to have an offense that relies on running the ball down the other team's throat.
2. I also wonder if Jamaal Charles is really, truly 100% after his offseason shoulder surgery. Given that he's hurt his shoulder several times before and bounced right back, it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that Charles is a warrior and will never use injury as an excuse not to play. If that's the case, could it be possible that the Chiefs are approaching his shoulder with caution and he wants to move at full speed, and that's been a source of frustration?
3. You shouldn't have to apologize for executing a gameplan that worked. Thomas Jones shouldn't have to apologize for the game that he had on Sunday. Despite the Browns loading up in the box, Jones ran the ball effectively and moved the chains. The Chiefs dominated the Time of Possession game by seven minutes. While Charles has always surprised me at how big he plays at times, I think there's an argument to be made that if you want to win in a control-the-clock type of game where the defense is daring you to throw the ball, then Jones might actually be a more suitable back. Now, that doesn't explain why Jones was getting a lot of carries in dryer conditions to begin the San Diego game, but against Cleveland, I get it. When Charles got the ball on Sunday, apart from a few nice gains in prevent-type situations, he was largely ineffective at moving forward. Maybe you can blame that on rhythm and of course you can't take the home run threat off the field, but anyone who says Thomas Jones was ineffective at moving the ball on Sunday was watching a completely different game. Don't blame Thomas Jones for the passing game's complete inability to keep drives moving.
4. We all know that Jamaal Charles shouldn't be carrying the ball 350 times in a season. Some would question whether 300 is overkill. If that's the case, then how do you ration his carries? When I look at Steven Strasburg, I think of a young pitcher whose arm probably wasn't ready to take on a heavy MLB workload. When you have a limit, as Strasburg did for innings and many RBs now have for carries, you have to decide how to split that workload up. If it's true that the RB-by-Committee will be matchup-based, then the implication is that Charles will get 25-30 carries when the matchup is right. So here is the key question: if Charles gets 10 carries a game in a few games, but ends the season having about 300 carries, is that okay? Or do people think that he deserves exactly around 15-20 touches per game period?
5. Nobody's running much these days. Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles both have it tough. Defenses are daring the Chiefs to beat them deep and despite that, the Chiefs' pass offense has still struggled to move the ball in the air. Until the Chiefs prove they can consistently pass the ball effectively, defenses are going to do everything they can to attack the run. Until Matt Cassel can become effective in the air, the Chiefs are going to be limited in what they can do on the ground. And Jamaal Charles is the first person to benefit once you have defenders who aren't gunning to stop the run.
So for me, there is absolutely no excuse for Jamaal Charles not to get about 300 carries by season's end. If Charles doesn't see more carries against a stout San Francisco interior, I'll start getting concerned. If Charles doesn't get a lot more carries following the bye week, I'll become very concerned. And make no mistake that Charles is the better back, so I'm unwavering in my opinion that it's just plain stupid to underutilize him. I just hope that his reduced role is due to some of the reasons above.