Running Wild

Posted Aug 30, 2010

The Chiefs are currently leading the NFL with an average of 150 rushing yards per game

Editorial Note: Following Pittsburgh's 175-yard rushing performance at Denver on Sunday Night Football, the Chiefs now rank 2nd in NFL rushing.

Last week, Todd Haley was clear about the Chiefs offensive plans for 2010.

“We’re going to try and be a running team,” Haley said rather directly.

Through three preseason games, that’s exactly what the team is. The Chiefs currently lead the NFL in rushing with an average of 150.0 yards per game. Sure, it’s only the preseason, but when you’re leading the league, you’re leading the league.

Kansas City’s backfield has shown a rusher for every occasion this preseason. There’s the game-breaker in Jamaal Charles, a powerful veteran runner with a nose for finding space between the tackles in Thomas Jones, a “throw the playbook at them” athlete in Dexter McCluster and a short-yardage thumper in Jackie Battle.  Those four were the only backs to receive carries vs. Philadelphia, in a game where Haley was hoping to form “gameday roles.”

If the third preseason game is supposed to be the closest thing to an actual regular season contest, the Chiefs ran the ball 36 times. The premise of the Chiefs committing to the run is there, but the approach hasn’t always been as apparent.

By hiring Haley as head coach, GM Scott Pioli was bringing in a former wide receivers coach and a main orchestrator of the Arizona Cardinals’ potent air attack. Following that move, Pioli made his first big personnel splash by trading for a quarterback.

Throughout the 2009 preseason (and regular season), the wide receivers were a focal point of the Chiefs on-field efforts. Throw in no rushing touchdowns and a paltry rushing average through the first eight games of Haley’s tenure and it didn’t exactly look like the Chiefs were on a road that would have them committing to the run less than a year later.

But then Charles’ NFL career began to take flight, and as Charles churned out yardage on the ground, the Chiefs offense played better a whole. Sacks allowed were cut in half and offensive numbers went up in numerous categories. After Charles set a franchise single-game rushing record in Kansas City’s blowout victory over Denver to close out the season, becoming a running team was no longer some sort of distant mirage.

Two months following that final game of 2009, the top rusher from the league’s best rushing squad was added to the backfield. The groundwork for running the football had been laid already been laid, but this move helped the framework go up faster.

 “I think that it continues to be real encouraging the way that we’re blocking up front and the way we’re moving the football on the ground,” Haley said. “Those are good trends and good signs of the direction of the way things are going because I know if we can run the ball successfully on a down-in and down-out basis, we’ll have the chance to be a good team.”

When it comes to preseason stats, many would argue that they’re meaningless; too many reserve players executing vanilla plays out of playbooks that haven’t been fully schemed to attack an opponent’s weakness. That may be true, but the game of football is still the same.

If they Chiefs want to have a better shot at winning, they’re going to need to improve upon a turnover ratio that currently stands at negative seven (one takeaway, eight giveaways). Nobody’s arguing that point.

At the same time, the Chiefs believe that winning in 2010 will also be a product of being able to successfully run the football. That’s one of the reasons that Haley seems so encouraged about the team’s rushing success to date.

“To me this was the most positive sign to date with this developing team we have, and now we’re getting ready for Green Bay,” Haley said.

Regardless of who gets the bulk of the carries on Thursday night, the Chiefs have a chance to finish the preseason as the NFL’s best rushing team. That’s where they’d like to finish at the end of the regular season as well, especially if that correlates with an increased win total.

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