From ESPN to Pro Football Weekly to Football Outsiders to... well, you get the point. No matter where you look, football writers have extolled the abilities of Jamaal Charles while simultaneously crying foul over his lack of carries. Splitting time with Thomas Jones hasn't earned too many fans outside of Kansas City and, specifically, Todd Haley's staff. Not that they care, since the Chiefs just clinched the AFC West in a year where many expected them to struggle amid the division's lower half.
It's easy to see why Haley's insistence on a rotation of Jones and Charles is frustrating to fans (and not just fantasy football owners), since Charles is having such a historic season. Kansas City's become synonymous with dominating running backs over the last two decades -- from Christian Okoye to Priest Holmes to Larry Johnson (not to mention nice seasons from Marcus Allen and Barry Word) -- but nothing matches Jamaal Charles' ability to do so much with so little time.
To date, Charles has 1,380 yards rushing with 455 receiving yards with seven total touchdowns. The key is that Charles is averaging a ridiculous 6.4 yards per carry, a number only guys like Barry Sanders or O.J. Simpson or Jim Brown can match. It's stunning to many, then, that Jones has 20 more carries than Charles on the season, especially when Jones has 500 yards less than Charles with more playing time. The numbers just don't add up, given that most believe you earn your playing time no matter who's in front of you, and some have accused Haley is being too partial to veterans like Jones.
Understanding the rigors of an NFL season and even career, on the other hand, lend credence to what Haley is doing -- not only for the sake of this season, but for the long haul after signing Charles to a healthy extension that will keep him in Kansas City for some time. Peter King commented today on the resurgence of defensive end John Abraham well into his thirties. Falcons coach Mike Smith limits his plays for every game, a la a young starting pitcher on a pitch count, and the results speak for themselves:
When he first got to Atlanta in 2008, Smith saw he had a strong pass-rusher in John Abraham who tailed off late in games and late in seasons. So he instituted a sort of pitch-count plan for Abraham, playing him, at most, about two-thirds of the plays instead of his customary full games. The result: Abraham, in his thirties, has been better than Abraham in his twenties. Now 32, Abraham is finishing his best three-year stretch of a good career, with 34 sacks in three seasons entering Monday night's crucial NFC South match with New Orleans.
Many speak of today's athletes as being stronger and faster, therefore the hits come harder each and every week. But medical technology and conditioning programs are also better, which means athletes can conceivably play longer than ever, too. Charles might have set records or at least led the NFL in rushing (and he still might) given more carries, but Charles has led the Chiefs to the playoffs in an inspiring turnabout of a season. And he's doing so with fresh legs for both this post-season and next that should benefit the Chiefs for years to come.