The Chiefs figured it might be tough sledding early on against the Rams’ imposing front four, and by halftime Sunday, they were proven correct.
Over the first two quarters, the Rams swarmed the Chiefs’ ground game, overloading the box and holding them to a measly 14 yards in 12 carries.
But while coach Andy Reid has a well-earned reputation for occasionally abandoning the run, it wouldn’t happen on this day. Thanks in part to the threat of the Rams’ pass rush, which showed its might before the break with back-to-back sacks of quarterback Alex Smith, Reid decided to stick with the ground game, in hopes that it would pay off during the fourth quarter.
So Jamaal Charles kept slashing, and Knile Davis kept churning, and by the end of the game, the Chiefs racked up 34 carries for 143 rushing yards.
“The running game early was a little (iffy),” center Rodney Hudson said. “But we just had to keep after it, man ... especially against this group. They play with a lot of guys in the box, and they schemed well.”
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was not surprised by the fact the same defense that looked impenetrable in the first half sprung some leaks in the second half.
“A lot of the time, the NFL is like that,” Smith said. “You play a good front, and it’s not going to be easy early. It’s a matter of staying patient with it as the game goes on. Really, credit to those guys (up front) on wearing them down and the guys along the perimeter (for) blocking well.”
Perhaps the ultimate sign of the way the Chiefs worn down the Rams came early in the fourth quarter, when Charles, who finished with 73 yards in 13 carries, broke a season-long 36-yard touchdown run out of the I-formation and up the middle.
“We call it chopping wood,” left tackle Eric Fisher said. “You’ve just got to wear a defense out as the game goes on, and at the end there, we had a lot of fun. Jamaal broke that one for the touchdown, and when you see that guy run past you, it’s a great thing.”
Rams star defensive end Robert Quinn, who beat Fisher for two sacks, credited the Chiefs — who had Davis rush for 49 yards and a touchdown in 16 carries — for sticking to their game plan, as did safety T.J. McDonald.
“They were able to get too many rushing yards in the second half,” McDonald said.
But part of the reason for that was their fear of the pass rush. The Rams rank last in the league in sacks with six, but as Reid noted earlier this week, they have still been able to pile up a fair number of quarterback hits, and Quinn did lead the league in sacks last year with 19.
“Anytime you have balance, then those guys aren’t able to pin their ears back and go,” Smith said. “You’re going to help yourself as far pass rush goes.”
Hudson said the emphasis on the run — the Chiefs ran 34 times compared to 28 passes — also gave the offensive line some confidence.
“Running the ball helps a lot,” Hudson said. “Being able to establish the run and keep them off balance, being efficient on first and second down, puts you in third and manageable.”
Smith said the Chiefs did other things to keep Quinn and the others at bay, too.
“The ball (was) coming out, you’re being smart with the football, and some of that stuff equates to the tight ends, the running backs and keeping those guys at bay, chipping them,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it.”
But the big thing, Smith said, was the performance of an offensive line that finally started to wear on the Rams after absorbing some early shots.
“Those guys up front,” Smith said, “they did a great job battling.”