Falcons first test for Chiefs rushing tandem of Charles and Hillis

Posted Sep 8, 2012

Atlanta preparing for Kansas City’s dual-threat backfield

Jamaal Charles smiles when asked by a reporter if he likes the Chiefs new “one-two running back punch” of himself and Peyton Hillis.

“Do you like it,” Charles asks back.

Charles and Hillis are both listed as starters in Kansas City’s backfield. Head coach Romeo Crennel re-created the team’s depth chart to list two running backs and no fullbacks, although the team isn’t carrying a fullback anyway.

It’s Crennel’s way of saying that both backs will play an integral role in the Chiefs offensive success this season. Incredibly, it’s also the first time since the end of the 2009 season that Charles has been officially listed as a first-teamer.

“We are just trying to make each other better,” Charles said of pairing with Hillis. “That’s all about going out and competing, and at the end of the day it’s about winning. It’s not about who got the most yards at the end of the day. It matters who got the win.”

If last Thursday’s preseason finale was any indication of things to come, there will be plenty of touches for Charles and Hillis to share. The Chiefs called 10 consecutive running plays to open the game against Green Bay and four different running backs carried the football.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s run-heavy emphasis churned out 247 team rushing yards at Lambeau Field and the Chiefs finished the preseason ranked fourth in the NFL averaging 159.3 rushing yards per game.

“Anything in life, no matter what job it is, you need somebody there that can make you better,” Hillis said. “I think when that challenge is there, it’s good for both of you. Jamaal definitely brings something to the table that I look up to.

“I try to learn some of his game to apply to mine. Hopefully that will help my game out some. I’m just blessed to be in the same backfield with him and to play with him.”

With both running backs listed as starters, and Hillis’ history as a fullback, Charles and Hillis could see themselves paired together in the Chiefs backfield plenty this season.

Daboll showed several looks featuring Charles and Hillis in the same backfield this preseason, but he was careful not to reveal a full deck of cards. Most of his personnel groupings were basic with Charles and Hillis substituting in and out of the game for each other.

There’s no telling what looks the Falcons defense will see in Daboll’s debut as Chiefs offensive coordinator on Sunday.

“The first thing I look at is I look at the running backs,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said, analyzing the Chiefs offensive personnel. “You’ve got two different style running backs, which I think puts stresses on defenses.

“Jamaal Charles is arguably one of the three fastest guys, running backs, in the National Football League. He may be the No. 1 guy. He’s got speed. He’s a good cut-back runner. Peyton Hillis creates a lot of issues in terms that he’s more of a downhill, run-behind-your-pass runner that you’re going to have to put more sets of pads defensively on him in order to bring him down.”

Daboll considers himself a game plan coach. Much like the traits Crennel wants his defense to possess, Daboll stresses a tough, attacking and resilient offensive unit.

The history is there. Daboll got a career season out of Hillis in 2010 (270 carries for 1,177 yards with 11 TDs and 61 rec. for 477 yards with two TDs) and did the same with Reggie Bush last year in Miami (216 carries for 1,086 yards with six TDs and 43 rec. for 296 yards with one TD).

Daboll has gotten the maximum out of running backs throughout his career as an offensive coordinator and all indications suggest he’ll try to do the same in his first season with the Chiefs.

“I think (Charles) is going to be a guy that they’re going to give his touches,” Smith predicted. “There are so many guys on that offensive side that can cause you problems, but I anticipate seeing him a lot on Sunday. I think that he’s the guy that can really hurt you on the outside. He’s a really good cutback runner.

“I’ve always been impressed with Brian Daboll as a coordinator in watching him through the years. I think he does very good in game-planning. I think he’s one of the best offensive game planning coaches in the NFL. He tries to attach your weaknesses and tries to use the strengths of his players. I think he does a very good job.”

The offensive era of Brian Daboll opens in Kansas City on Sunday and so does the rushing tandem of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis.

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