Jamaal Charles carried the ball 22 times in the meeting last season between the Chiefs and Bills, which tied his season high. While the Chiefs squeaked out the game with a 13-10 victory in the closing seconds of overtime on a Ryan Succop 35 yard field goal, it wasn't the easiest game for Chiefs fans to watch.
Despite Charles averaging 8 yards per carry and chipping in another 61 yards receiving, the Chiefs still only managed one touchdown in the game. They didn't turn the ball over, which is the main reason they were able to pull out this victory. But going 4-15 on third down isn't going to win many games for anyone.
Matt Cassel was fantastically average going 14-26 for 152 yards and a touchdown. But with under a minute remaining in overtime, Cassel threw consecutive passes of 18 yards and 11 yards to Tony Moeaki that got the Chiefs into field goal range and gave them the opportunity to win the game. The Chiefs may have ran for 274 yards in the game with a 6.1 yards per carry average, but it was the passing game that ultimately won this game for the Chiefs.
The Bills have re-shaped their defense heading into this 2011 season. They have lost their two leading tacklers from last season in Paul Posluszny and Donte Whitner. Posluszny signed with the Jaguars and Whitner has joined the 49ers. They also released former first-round pick Aaron Maybin, who recently signed with the Jets. They signed free agent linebacker Nick Barnett, formerly with the Packers, and drafted DT Marcell Dareus with the No. 3 pick overall in the 2011 NFL draft.
The key to this game is going to be very simple for the Chiefs. The Chiefs need to establish that they can run the ball effectively at any time. If the Chiefs are going to be a truly dominant rushing team this year than they need to prove they can successfully run the ball when the other team knows it coming, and still can't do anything about it. That comes down to winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs haven't been too successful yet this preseason in terms of their offensive line, but the first week of the regular season should prove to be a barometer for how Haley's offseason and preseason tactics have worked in regular season situations.
It wouldn't surprise anyone if most teams the Chiefs play this year do everything they can to try and stop Charles and the Chiefs running game. They will test Matt Cassel early and often and make him prove that he can beat them through the air. There is one player on the Chiefs roster that's should to be able to help Cassel the most with this problem. That's Dexter McCluster. He will be able to take short, safe passes and turn them into huge gains.
Teams better not relax when they see Charles leave the game and McCluster comes rolling onto the field. Draws and screens will be set up specifically for McCluster to get some space and break off a big play. Cassel just needs to make sure to make the correct read and to get McCluster the ball at the right time. He'll take care of the rest as shown this preseason. Cassel still has a lot to prove in situations where the running game gets shut down and it falls on his shoulders throwing the ball, but that shouldn't happen against the Bills and if it does, the problems are much bigger anyways.
The Chiefs know that Chan Gailey loves to pass the ball and Ryan Fitzpatrick loves to air it out for the Bills. They will be testing the Chiefs secondary early and often and Chiefs fans ought to be comfortable with that. Rookie linebacker Justin Houston might have the opportunity to build on the pass-rushing repertoire he's flashed in the preseason and take that to the field, namely to Ryan Fitzpatrick. They already know about Tamba and the Chiefs shouldn't have any problem introducing some of the new players to the Bills.
The Bills return No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson, who finished the 2010 season with 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. But did lose No. 2 Lee Evans in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. For as much as the Bills like the pass the ball you'd think they would want to keep as many playmakers around as possible. They did sign wide receiver/return man/quarterback/wildcat back, Brad Smith, who signed over from the New York Jets this past offseason. But Johnson and Smith aren't enough to truly worry this strong secondary.
The Chiefs will get a very good gauge of where they stand in the trenches after this game and that should go a long way in answering some of the lingering offensive line questions that have surfaced in the last couple of preseason games. Buffalo ranked dead last in the NFL last season against the run and the additions they've made might help their team, but losing Posluszny is going to hurt the middle of their defense. And that's right where the Chiefs should try and run the ball.