It doesn’t matter whether it’s Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn or even Ricky Stanzi at quarterback; the Chiefs’ offensive game plan for the immediate future appears to be established.
Run the ball.
That might not be the most prudent plan of attack this Sunday at Tampa Bay, which ranks fourth in the NFL in rush defense, 32nd against the pass and has allowed just one 100-yard rusher in four games.
But the Chiefs called 49 running plays to 19 pass plays — or 73 percent runs — in last Sunday’s 9-6 loss to Baltimore, and the strategy kept them in the game, unlike the debacles that unfolded against Atlanta, Buffalo and San Diego.
As a team, the Chiefs rank No. 2 in the NFL in rushing. Jamaal Charles leads the league with 551 yards and is tied for third with 102 attempts; his 5.4-yard average ranks second among all backs with at least 48 carries.
Even in a pass-happy league, Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel doesn’t have a problem taking the air out of the ball and out of his quarterback’s hands.
“If you can gain yards running, you can win running the ball,” Crennel said. “If you can’t gain yards running, and you continue running the ball, that might not be the best formula.”
Despite rushing for 214 yards against Baltimore, the Chiefs still didn’t put the ball in the end zone, though a fumble at the 1 prevented at least one touchdown.
“But we were in the game,” Crennel said. “We got three less points than the Ravens, which means we lose, and I understand that, but would you rather see a competitive game or would you rather see a 40-10 score?”
Charles, listed at 5-11, 199 pounds, is on pace to carry 326 times and have 374 touches, counting receptions, which would surpass his previous high of 275 touches (230 carries, 45 receptions) in 2010, when he ran for 1,467 yards.
Against Baltimore, the Chiefs spread the workload among Charles (30 carries, 140 yards rushing and three catches), Shaun Draughn (12-40 yards, one catch) and rookie Cyrus Gray (4-20, one catch).
And this week, they could have Peyton Hillis back from injury.
“We have a pretty good stable of running backs,” Crennel said. “Peyton happens to be injured at the moment, but going in, we felt that combination of Charles and Hillis would be a good combination. Then, with these young guys behind them, we felt pretty good about that position. When we get Peyton back, we’ll still feel pretty good about it.”
Gray, a sixth-round draft pick, saw his most extensive playing time of the season against Baltimore because Draughn was so involved on special teams, including returning three kickoffs for a 27.3-yard average.
Gray bobbled a pitch from Cassel that was called a fumble by the quarterback, though it clearly should have been handled.
“It was a loss of concentration,” Gray said. “I’m looking up to make a read ”
Gray was a featured back at Texas A&M, where he carried 200 times in 2010 and 198 in times in 2011. He said there was no magic number of carries for any of the Chiefs’ backs.
“If you’re a runner, you’re a runner,” he said. “It just depends on how the game goes, and how the game plan is.”
Tackle Eric Winston could have been speaking for offensive linemen everywhere when it comes to favoring the running game.
“We’ve gotten into such a pass-happy league, that now defenses are starting to catch up by putting faster, lighter guys on the field,” Winston said. “I don’t care how athletic you are at tackle, it’s tough to pass-block those guys because they’re not 270-pound run-stoppers anymore — those are 255-pound track guys who can move, have great length and do a lot of things.
“To me, the best way to combat that is to be a contrarian, and to go back to running, and to go back to getting after ’em and doing things they don’t want to do. And I guarantee you, they don’t want to see us coming after them. They like to see us backing up (to pass-block), and we hate backing up.”
Charles’ averaging 4.7 yards a carry against Baltimore kept the Chiefs in more favorable down-and-distance situations than the second- and third-and-10 situations created by incompletions. The Chiefs converted six of 13 third-downs for 46 percent, their best success rate since the season opener against Atlanta (11 of 16 for 69 percent).
“When you’re running the ball like that, short passes are going to open up, play-action passes are going to open up, you’re going to be much more successful on first down, and you’re not going to have to get to third down,” Winston said. “That’s important for your offense, I don’t care who’s playing quarterback. That’s the team we have to be to be successful here.”
Tampa Bay, under new coach Greg Schiano, is allowing just 3.2 yards per carry this season, third-best in the NFL. In their season-opening, 16-10 win over Carolina, the Bucs held the Panthers to 10 yards rushing.
“Schiano has put his stamp on that already,” Winston said. “He’s a defensive guy; he’s going to want to stop the run. We’re going to have to move them out of their gaps. Baltimore has been pretty good against the run, too.
“It comes down to a battle of wills in the trenches. If we can keep giving (offensive coordinator) Brian Daboll a reason to keep calling runs, he’s shown he’s going to do it. I look at it like it’s on us up front.”