For weeks, when quizzed about Jamaal Charles’ lack of big runs this season, members of the Chiefs offensive line would preach patience: It’s coming, one would say. It’s only a matter of time, another would say.
In retrospect, boy was it. After breaking offonly one run of 20 yards or more
throughout the first nine games of the season, Charles has had two in the last two games, as he finally showed off his trademark speed and elusiveness in the open field on the kind of runs (which went for 35 and 46 yards) that had largely been missing in the Chiefs’ offense under new coach Andy Reid.
“With a new offense, it takes a while for things to click,” guard Geoff Schwartz said. “There’s little things here and there. As the season goes on, you’ll see more of this type of running, because I think we know what to do in certain situations. We’ve seen every defense we can possibly see. And up front, we’re starting to do things a little better.”
When asked about Charles’ recent uptick in big-play production — he’s run for 193 yards on 30 total carries the last two games, an average of 6.4 yards per carry — Reid also pointed to the growing cohesion of the offensive line, which had to replace two starters from a group that helped Charles rush for 1,509 yards (with 11 runs of 20 yards or more) last season.
“I think the offensive line, they’ve done a pretty good job the last couple weeks,” Reid said. “They’re feeling each other in the run game and how it’s working, and it’s worked out OK.”
What’s particularly notable is the fact Charles had his best game of the year in the Chiefs’ 41-38 loss to San Diego on Sunday with two starters out due to shoulder injuries. Schwartz filled in at right guard for Jon Asamoah, while second-year pro Donald Stephenson filled in at right tackle for rookie Eric Fisher. Together they helped Charles rush for 115 yards and two touchdowns, with 67 of those yards coming outside of the right tackle, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I thought they were great,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said of Schwartz and Stephenson. “I don’t think anybody blinked an eye with those two guys stepping in. Nobody missed a beat.”
In fact, one can argue they gave the group a boost. Fisher (negative-7.7) has largely struggled in run blocking this season while Asamoah (plus-0.9) has been good, but the run-blocking grades for Stephenson (plus-2.1) and Schwartz (plus-1.4) against San Diego were the first and third-highest on the team in the San Diego game.
“Me and Geoff work pretty good together,” Stephenson said. “We get a lot of reps on the scout team, we had a lot of reps (against Denver). So we communicate well it’s something we’ve done pretty well since the spring.”
However, it remains to be seen if Schwartz and Stephenson will get another chance to do their thing this week. Asamoah and Fisher both practiced Thursday and Friday, albeit on a limited basis, and are listed as questionable on the injury report, which means they have a 50/50 chance of playing.
But while Reid praised the play of the backups, their performance was hardly the only reason the Chiefs have been able to help Charles break some long runs recently.
“We’re getting a little better balance with our offense,” Reid said. “That’s allowing some things to be available.”
In the two games since the bye week, Smith has been slinging it downfield a little more; he’s completed seven of 13 deep passes for 165 yards and also drawn two defensive holding penalties. What’s more, Smith was so good against the Chargers (26 of 38 for 294 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions) that Charles only logged 14 carries despite averaging 8.2 yards per rush.
“It’s kind of a fine line because the passing game was working and our downfield passes were working too,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “Really, the time of the game dictates what you have to do, especially down the stretch. We needed to get a touchdown to go ahead, and we felt like at the time that throwing the football was key.”
Pederson, however, noted that the Chiefs did hit Charles on a 19-yard screen pass that helped set up their final touchdown, an indication that No. 25 is always a focal point.
That’s been the case all season, even when teams were limiting his chunk plays, and will continue to be the case, especially when the running game looks as sharp as it did against the Chargers.
“I don’t think there’s any secret (to it),” Smith said. “It’s just (us) going out there and executing the plays, with him going out there and making some pretty good individual plays (too).”