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A reminder that Jamaal Charles is awesome: Anatomy of a play

Sometimes it's best to just take a moment and enjoy a football play.

That's what I intend to do today. It's the offseason, things are a little slow. And I feel like it's been a little while since we talked about what makes Jamaal Charles special. So it's time for an anatomy of a play article.

Now, quick warning... the play I chose comes from the Week 2 stomach-punch loss to the Broncos. If you're the type of fan that can't handle talking about ANY aspect of a game that didn't end the way you wanted it to, then this isn't going to be for you. If that's not you, well... let's have some fun.

(oh, also, let me say it for some of you. "We lost that game because of Jamaal's fumbles, bro." There, now you don't have to do it!)

It's the 2nd Quarter, with 9:11 remaining on the clock. The Chiefs have the ball on 2nd and 3 on Denver's 34-yard-line after a short gain to Jeremy Maclin on first down.


So the Chiefs are lined up with 1 TE (Travis Kelce, lined up on the left side), 3 WR's (Jeremy Maclin wide left, DAT just inside of Maclin, and Albert Wilson on the right side), and Smith in shotgun (well, closer to pistol really) with Charles in the backfield.

Denver has 5 guys on the line of scrimmage (though only 3 with their hand in the dirt), with an ILB creeping up to blitz (as evidenced with that pretty red arrow) and the other ILB within 4 yards of the LOS. By all appearances they're expecting a run (though Denver tends to play aggressive regardless). In the secondary, we've got man coverage across the board with a single safety (T.J. Ward, circled) patrolling deep.

I've also circled the LOLB (in this case, Shane Ray) because he's the "read" defender. The Chiefs are going to run a read option, with Smith sticking the ball in Charles' stomach and deciding whether to hand it off based on what Ray does. Get it, "read" defender? I'm here for the painfully obvious observations.


Ray goes unblocked (which is a schematic feature of this play) but runs upfield instantly, thinking he's rushing the passer. In the meantime, the entire offensive line's job is to try and move the rest of the defense laterally (to the offense's left, defense's right). The idea is to create a huge open area where Ray has recently vacated in his efforts to get to the QB (or, if Ray had stayed home to play JC inside, to create an outside edge Smith can run to).

Ray puts the brakes on, but stays to the outside. I would assume (without asking him, I can't say for sure) that he believes Smith is going to keep the ball and is worried about an athletic QB getting a big gain. The result? A giant hole for Charles to run through. The only defender who would've had a shot at stopping this would be Brandon Marshall, the other ILB (non-blitzing), but he's got his eye on Kelce to start the play and doesn't react in time.

Here's a better angle to show how well this look worked to get Charles a hole.


So now we've got a play that's already successful to an extent. Ray is completely out of the play (when it's Jamaal Charles, being a couple yards away is fatal), while the rest of the defensive front is attempting to disengage in time to at least cut Charles off before a large gain is made, they never have a chance.

This is where we get to the first part of "Jamaal Charles is special." No one in the league has his burst or reaches top speed so quickly.

Watch that third step. Charles hits his "second gear" so quickly it's almost surreal. Because of that, there's absolutely no time for the front 7 to recover and try to corral him as he blows right past them. He then cuts left to start doing some ridiculous stuff, but we'll get back to him in a second.

One thing we've talked about when we do these anatomy of a play articles is that for a team to score a touchdown in the NFL, a lot of things need to go right. It's almost never the result of one individual succeeding or failing, but multiple players (or the play call itself)  succeeding or failing.

On this play, the initial "success" of the play overall was dictated even before the snap. The play call took advantage of what Denver was doing defensively and took the Broncos by surprise. The play took a second step of success because of JC's unnatural burst and his ability to move to the "correct" place in the open field to maximize yardage.

At the end of the last gif you saw Charles cut left to force Ward to give chase (Ward took way too aggressive an angle when facing a guy with JC's cutting ability). We know from previous gifs that a pair of corners are in the area. Well... one corner. Because this happens (a slightly different view of the same run).

DAT did a good job setting his defender up with a quick stutter at the start of the play, as though he were about to go on a route. The defender bit hard and gets caught backpeddling. DAT behaves almost like a bull rushing defender and gets right into the defender (Roby's) body, taking advantage of his momentum to drive him backward.

I really like how DAT finishes here. He's not content with just moving Roby away from the play, he doesn't stop until he completely plants him. This play is a fantastic example of how important it is to finish a block, because in this case it changes the dynamic of what's possible for Charles to accomplish.

Here's the whole field just as DAT is starting to plant Roby, Charles is cutting left and Ward is scrambling to recover.


So Charles has two realistic options here. He can try and cut upfield between Ward and Harris, or he can take the run to the outside. Cutting back to his right isn't really an option, even with JC's unreal change-of-direction ability. Denver's front 7 has recovered enough (they really are a gifted defense) to be able to cut off that avenue in the time it would take JC to completely reverse field.

So again, 2 options. On the surface, the "inside" option might seem more appealing, as cutting outside means heading straight toward a pair of defenders. However, with the specific way this play has formed, it's the inferior option for a pair of reasons.

First, Harris (a very fast corner) already has his hips turned inside to cut off that avenue. With the angle he's got, even Charles can't hope to win a race to the end zone with Ward closing off any move inside. So Harris's momentum is taking him toward the exact spot Charles would go if he took the inside route.

Second, as we just discussed, DAT is in the process of burying the other corner. This means there's no one moving toward the outside if Charles takes that route. It also means that by heading outside it gives 2 blockers (DAT and Maclin) time to get ahead of Charles to help him out.

Here's where, yet again, we see why Charles is special. He sees the field better than nearly any other RB in the league and, in this case, recognizes that the outside presents the best opportunity for a touchdown. But he doesn't just immediately head toward the sideline. He jukes as though he's about to take the inside option, forcing Harris to commit to running up the field as opposed to staying outside. And because he's Jamaal Charles, that juke doesn't even remotely slow him down.

Because of DAT's initial block and JC's ability to cover ground in the blink of an eye, the Broncos defense finds itself very suddenly in a situation where the only man with a realistic chance to stop a touchdown is Harris.


Unfortunately for Harris, he now has 2 Chiefs between himself and Charles. DAT isn't quite in a position to block Harris, who does a good job taking the proper angle to try and cut off the red streak that is Charles. However, Maclin has gone from jogging the play out to sprinting down the field to help. We'll come back to him.

Those of you who know what circles are may be asking yourselves, "why is Ward circled if MN just said Harris is the only guy with a realistic chance at stopping Charles?" I'm glad I imagined you asking. The answer is that Ward isn't in a terrible spot to prevent a touchdown if he's playing against a normal human. But the fact of the matter is that because it's Charles, he doesn't have a prayer of making it there in time.

In fact, Ward himself knows this. He started jogging the play out before it was even over. Oddly enough, he doesn't try to punch anyone. He must have been tired or something.

Back to Maclin, who committed the shameful error of slowing down early in the play, only to discover that when your teammate is Jamaal Charles that's a bad idea. He's quick to atone for his sin.

Maclin sprints in front of Charles (who allows him to do so and cuts outside. Setting up blockers and whatnot. Have I mentioned Charles is good at his job?) and delivers a TD-sealing block on Harris as Charles leaps over the goal line. Touchdown, Chiefs.

There's a lot to like about this play. The play call. The execution by the offensive line. The fact that Alex Smith's legs can freeze defenders like that. DAT's wonderful block. Maclin's recovery and effort to get down the field and seal the deal. T.J. Ward getting owned by a Chiefs running back (which happened, um, more than once last year).

But the thing that stands out to me is that this play is not a touchdown with any other back in the NFL. No one else has the burst, top speed, and vision to execute what Charles does here. It's a thing of beauty.

I can't wait to have that guy back on the field.

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