After yesterday's post where I talked about Derrick Johnson being, in my opinion, the most irreplaceable player on the Chiefs defense, we're going to switch sides of the ball and talk about the offense this time around.
Many of you probably think that this choice was a no-brainer, and while Charles' affect on this offense was visible to everyone and their brother last season, I almost went with Branden Albert on this one because even a Ferrari struggles on a bumpy road. The best in the world still work better when things are paved nicely for them.
The No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL in 2010 was led by Jamaal Charles amazing 6.4 yards per carry average. The Chiefs averaged 164.2 yards per game on the ground and led the NFL in rushing attempts (556) that season. Last season in 2011, the Chiefs averaged just 118.3 yards per game on just 487 attempts. There are a lot of factors that play into the attempts but for the sake of simplicity, the Chiefs ranked 15th in the NFL in rushing last season, which is notably worse.
But surprisingly enough it's more about what Charles does for everyone around him that makes him irreplaceable for this offense.
During Matt Cassel's Pro Bowl season in 2010 he thrived off throwing the play-action pass. It's set up nicely for you when you have the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL paving the way for your running back. Teams tend to bite on the play-fake more when you're consistently running the ball well. To his credit, Cassel didn't force things when they weren't there and he finished the season with an elite level TD/INT ratio (27/7).
The Chiefs offense is built upon the running game setting up the passing game. That doesn't happen if the threat of Jamaal Charles isn't there for this offense. Matt Cassel needs Jamaal Charles at running back to be the best quarterback he can be for this team. You can use that as a knock on Cassel if you want but the situation 'is what it is'. Fact is he does have Jamaal Charles and the assumption from many Chiefs fans is that Charles will be healthy and will be back to his 2010 form.
It seems a little naive to just assume he'll be back at that level without any problems. If you don't think so let me know if you aren't holding your breath every time he gets tackled for his first 50 carries or so, that is until he gets up and goes back to the huddle. He might be back 100% healthy but that still doesn't mean that he'll match 2010's record-breaking season, but even a slightly lower level of play at the running back position from Charles will force teams to game-plan around him still, thus leaving Cassel in a position to make plays for this offense.
The Eric Winston pickup this off-season is probably what kept me from choosing Branden Albert in a strange way. Without Albert we would still have a strong right side of the offensive line to run behind. If it's true that Cassel had some struggles related to the poor play of our former right tackle, Barry Richardson. A position that allowed Cassel to see the man who just beat our guy right in front of him, developing a lack of trust in that guy. I can't imagine what kind of pocket presence we might see if he didn't trust the guy protecting his blindside. We don't really know yet what we have in Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson just like we really don't know what we have yet in Cyrus Gray and Peyton Hillis (we can just guess).
This offense needs Matt Cassel to make three or four critical passes a game in order to achieve what it needs to from an offensive standpoint each game. That's much easier when Jamaal Charles is your featured running back, which is why he's the most irreplaceable player on the Chiefs offense.
For the record I'm completely in favor of Charles getting a maximum of 12-14 carries per game.