Red Zone

Chiefs gameday: A detailed look at the offensive keys to victory vs. Jacksonville

Updated: 2013-09-08T16:16:53Z

By TEREZ A. PAYLOR

The Kansas City Star

— Let's be honest — aside from the short clips NFL Films has provided over the years, we really have no idea what it's like to be in an NFL locker room before a game.

However, given the rigorous work day of your average NFL coach — which has been well documented through the years — I'm willing to bet that at some point throughout the week, players are given the keys to victory.

So, as part of The Star's ongoing effort to give you the most comprehensive Chiefs coverage possible, here's the first of what will soon become a gameday staple here on The Star's Red Zone blog: three keys to a Chiefs' win, based on film study, statistical analysis and interviews with players and coaches.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the offense as the Chiefs head into their showdown today against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Look, Jaguars defensive end Jason Babin isn't what he once was. He's 33 years old and he was even released by his former team (Philadelphia) during the 2012 season, which never happens to elite players. But he did finish the season with seven sacks and remains the best pass-rusher the Jaguars have.

Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson is well-aware of the threat Babin poses at the “Leo” position, which calls for a pass-rush specialist in the aggressive defense new Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley brought from Seattle.

“They move around Jason Babin, who I think is one of the elite pass rushers in the National Football League,” Pederson said.

In general, Pederson said the Jaguars' defensive line stunts quite a bit and the linebackers flow to the ball quickly, but there's little doubt Babin is the best rusher on a unit that logged a pathetic 20 sacks in 2012, the fewest in the league.

Today, Babin could line up across from veteran left tackle Branden Albert, but that may not be very fruitful. Albert was pretty steady in pass protection last season, giving up only one sack and 17 quarterback pressures in 378 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.

So to maximize Babin's effectiveness, I think he will likely be lined up across from rookie right tackle Eric Fisher, who has battled thumb and shoulder injuries in the preseason and said this when asked about his health this week.

“Babin primarily plays the open side, away from the tight end, but there’s going to be times when he goes over there and our tight end will be on the other side,” Pederson said. “Fish is up for the challenge. It will be interesting to see how he handles that. Babin is a crafty guy. Fisher will have his work cut out for him.”

If Fisher can hold up against Babin, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith should have time to exploit the Jaguars' secondary. Running back Jamaal Charles will surely catch some passes out of the backfield, but Jacksonville will also start two rookies in the secondary in second-round safety John Cyprien and third-round cornerback Dwayne Grate.

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It stands to reason that Bradley, who spent the last four seasons commanding one of the league's best defenses in Seattle, will run a similar defensive scheme in Jacksonville.

Not so fast, says Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.

“Sometimes you do turn on the tape and I definitely see a lot of” what he did in Seattle “and sometimes there's not because it's not the same personnel,” Smith said. “They have a different defensive coordinator, so I don't know how much they took from Seattle and how much they (didn't). Once again, you go back to 'Are they showing everything or are they not?' We'll find out.”

Defensive coordinator Bob Babich spent the last three seasons as the linebackers coach in Chicago, where the Bears primarily ran a Tampa 2 scheme under Lovie Smith that differs somewhat from the hybrid 4-3 scheme Bradley ran in Seattle.

“Obviously, you have what they’ve done in preseason and you can make your best guess” what they will do “off that,” Pederson said. “But you do have to go back and study not only Coach Bradley, but Babich, as well, and study their history a little bit and get a feel and flavor for what they’re all about.

“But you know, week one around the league, there’s a lot of unknowns for a lot of teams,” Pederson said. “You’ve just got to be prepared for all situations.”

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You can probably abandon any hope of star running back Jamaal Charles toting the rock 285 times like he did last season, when he gained 1,509 yards and scored five touchdowns on the ground. During new coach Andy Reid's last three seasons in Philadelphia, he threw the ball nearly 57 percent of the time, despite possessing one of the game's top backs in LeSean McCoy.

What's more, the Chiefs only ran the ball 89 times this preseason, the fewest total in the league. While that may not mean a thing — the Vikings only ran it 90 times, and they have a guy named Adrian Peterson in their backfield — it does reflect the Chiefs' insistence on chucking it around this preseason.

“Coming out of training camp, I think the biggest thing you saw was we put an emphasis on the passing game,” Pederson said. “We know this team can run the football. They’ve proven that in the past. That’s been the history. We want to see how we can attack through the air.”

Pederson is confident the running game will be there when needed, despite the fact four of the projected starters — Albert, Fisher, guard Jeff Allen and center Rodney Hudson — each finished with negative run-blocking grades during the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus.

“We have the utmost confidence in our upfront guys — it starts with that offensive line,” Pederson said. “There’s not a concern going into this first game. We’re going to cut it loose. You always want to try to establish the run early, but really, the game itself dictates the direction you need to go.”

At the very least, it's reasonable to expect Charles to get his fair share of touches in the passing game. McCoy caught an average of 55 passes his last four seasons under Reid, which means Charles is a safe bet to improve on his 37-catch per season average since 2008 (not counting 2011, when he was injured).

“Oh yeah, I'm comfortable with it,” Charles said. “Every year, you've got to take your game to a new level. When Charlie Weis was here, I was in the slot playing wide receiver. Coach (Todd) Haley, he always wanted to turn me into a wide receiver as well, running comebacks, running straight go's, stop and go's...I ran that stuff before Coach Andy Reid got here so it's not a big deal to me.”

Charles is also optimistic a potentially increased role in the passing game will reduce the physical pounding he will take this season.

“I think it's big because I'm not in the backfield,” Charles said. “If I get a lead on somebody that's slower, I can outrun them. Out of the backfield, I take a lot of pounding. So I'm happy I can be versatile in my game and catch the ball like a wide receiver.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor. reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.

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