Chiefs are playing to Charles' skills

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
7:30
AM ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The first time the Kansas City Chiefs used Jamaal Charles as a receiver this season, they knew they were on to something. The Chiefs split Charles wide to the right and their opponents in the first game of the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars, pointed in wonder at the spectacle before a linebacker, Geno Hayes, scrambled over to cover him.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Jamaal Charles
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJamaal Charles' ability to run in the open field has given the Chiefs an added option when he turns into a receiver.
That Charles, usually a running back, easily beat Hayes for a 15-yard gain to set up Kansas City's first touchdown of the season was almost beside the point. The Chiefs had seen all they needed from Jacksonville's reaction.

Charles' job description changed that day. The Chiefs started throwing the ball to him more often in an effort to take better advantage of his ability to operate effectively in the open field.

"I think this offensive scheme [brings out the best in me], catching out of the backfield and getting me in space and making people miss," Charles said. "I was so happy when we got coach Andy Reid as our coach and I still am. He put me in position where I can show my talent and go out there and help my team win. That's what it's all about, getting the best player the ball when it's time.”

The Chiefs fed the ball to their best player in last Sunday's win over the Raiders in Oakland, and Charles had a game most running backs only can dream about. He scored five touchdowns -- four of them as a receiver -- as the Chiefs used Charles' abilities to maximum benefit.

Charles' four receiving touchdowns were of 49, 39, 16 and 71 yards. He had a startling 165 yards after the catch on those plays, three of which were screen passes. The Chiefs wasted no time going to Charles on the screen. He scored on Kansas City's first play from scrimmage and again seven Kansas City plays later.

It was something the Chiefs planned after the Raiders were able to constantly harass quarterback Alex Smith when the teams met in October in Kansas City. The receiver of choice was Charles because of his ability to run in the open field.

He is fast but also has great vision and cutback ability.

"They do a great job of rushing the passer and their blitz game is phenomenal," Reid said. "We felt since we didn't score one time out of the first five drives in the last game against them, we thought maybe the screen game would help us get going. It did work for us. That was something with their great pass rush, we needed to slow it down a little bit."

Including a 1-yard rushing score, Charles had four of Kansas City's first five touchdowns. But Charles' crushing blow was yet to come.

The Raiders had cut a 35-10 deficit to 35-31. On a third down, the Chiefs anticipated a coverage that, like the one in Jacksonville, had a linebacker responsible for Charles.

Charles came out of the backfield on a wheel route and, sure enough, linebacker Miles Burris went after him. Predictably, Charles blew by Burris, caught the pass from Smith in stride and completed the 71-yard touchdown. Oakland's momentum was halted and the Chiefs went on to win 56-31.

"I saw that one coming," Charles said. "In practice, the coach said it's probably going to go if they play the right coverage. I saw the linebacker on me and I knew that was the one guy I had to beat. That's what he said, that I would have to beat just one guy on this play, and I did.

"The coaches do a great job of putting me in great positions."

Increasingly, those positions are as a receiver. Charles, who had a career-high 1,509 rushing yards last season, won't get anywhere near that total this season. He's at 1,181 rushing yards.

His yards-per-carry average is the lowest of his career, though at 4.8 yards it's nothing for Charles to be ashamed of.

But Charles is far more productive as a receiver. The Chiefs haven't in recent seasons thrown a lot of passes to Charles. They largely ignored the screen passes, in part because quarterback Matt Cassel had trouble throwing them, and they were usually ineffective when they did try. The Chiefs also split Charles wide as a receiver only rarely.

He posted his career receiving highs in 2010 with 45 catches, 468 yards and a touchdown.

This year brought the addition of Reid, who favors the passing game and passes to the backs. It also brought the addition of Smith. One of his strengths is his ability to throw the screen pass well.

Charles leads the Chiefs in receptions (65), receiving yards (655) and receiving touchdowns (seven). Those ranks among NFL running backs are fifth, first and first, respectively.

Charles' receiving statistics would be better if he hadn't dropped eight passes, which is tied for the NFL lead among running backs with Reggie Bush of the Detroit Lions.

Adam Teicher

ESPN Kansas City Chiefs reporter

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