Chiefs mailbag: Tackling the running game

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The burning question on many minds following the Chiefs’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers headlines a condensed version – at least from a question point of view – of this edition of the mailbag.

Better get accustomed to a level of frustration surrounding that area of offense because it’s a proven part of coach Andy Reid’s history.

Arguably the largest criticism during Reid’s time with the Philadelphia Eagles surrounded the pass-run disparity in his version of the West Coast offense.

That knock consistently came despite Reid having running backs LeSean McCoy, Brian Westbrook and Duce Staley, among others, over the 14-year span.

The typical standard of excellence for running backs is a 1,000-yard rushing season, and a trio of Eagles rushers did it twice for Reid: Staley (1999, 2001), Westbrook (2006-07) and McCoy (2010-11).

Still, the pass-run disparity was alive in well in Philadelphia under Reid, much to the chagrin of frustrated Eagles fans and media observers.

The pass-run gap during Reid’s 14 seasons with the Eagles resulted in fan grumblings and numerous articles, including a story written by The Associated Press on Sept. 28, 2012.

Here’s a snippet from that AP story in 2012, coincidentally Reid’s final season with the Eagles:

Reid answers questions about having a more balanced offense every week. Sometimes, he agrees that, in hindsight, perhaps running would’ve been beneficial in a particular game. Other times, he shoots the theory down. Regardless, it doesn’t change his game plan.

“Listen, you’re seeing it with some of the good throwing teams in this league, you’ve got to have some sort of balance, whether that’s 60-40, 70-30,” Reid said. “You’ve got to be able to, obviously, keep defenses off balance and, at the same time, get yourself in a rhythm as an offense.”

Meanwhile, the second sentence in the transition paragraph from that AP article should sound familiar because it has arrived in Kansas City.

The most recent example where his approach with the passing game compared to running the ball drew scrutiny appeared during Week 5’s 22-17 loss to the 49ers.

Reid called a passing play on third-and-1 in lieu of putting the ball in the hands of a two-time All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles.

And the pass, of course, was batted down at the line of scrimmage.

That marked the second time from a loss this season when the team’s – arguably the NFL’s – most-dynamic rusher went without touching the ball, this time in a critical situation and it played a role in costing the Chiefs.

“If I had to do it all over again – and this is hindsight – but I’d probably come back and hand it to him and give him an opportunity to make a play,” Reid said Monday.

Reid addressed a similar scenario the day after Week 1’s loss against the Tennessee Titans. The Chiefs inexplicably ignored Charles in a game where he had 11 total touches (seven carries, four catches).

“Not giving 25 (Charles) the ball more than seven times is negligence on my part also,” Reid said on Sept. 8.

Reid will forever acknowledge and take accountability for his mistakes.

But longtime followers of the Chiefs are best served to remove visions of power running from the glorious Marty Schottenheimer era out of their heads.

Reid’s history points to a pass-happy offense where versatile running backs are a large part. Staley, Westbrook and McCoy were exceptional receivers out of the backfield; much like Charles is for the Chiefs.

Westbrook recorded a whopping career-high 90 catches during the 2007 season, Staley’s set a career-high 63 catches in 2001 and McCoy’s highest receiving totals came in 2010 with 78.

Charles established a career-high 70 catches in 2013, his first season in Reid’s offense. His previous high was 45 catches in 2010.

Of course, it will continue to be maddening when the Chiefs don’t run the ball on a third-and-short situation. But Reid will continue to run his offense contrary to popular opinion to find offensive balance.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting note from the 2004 season when Reid’s Eagles finished 13-3 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl: Reid did it without a 1,000-yard rusher.

Westbrook produced a team-high 812 yards rushing in 2004. He did, however, chip in with 73 catches for 703 yards. The 73 catches ranked second on the team. 

Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe currently ranks second on the team in yards receiving (195) and is tied at second with Donnie Avery in receptions (14). Second-year tight end Travis Kelce currently leads the team in receptions (20), yards receiving (274) and receiving touchdowns (3).

Still, there are factors likely contributing to Bowe’s low production through four games (he was suspended in Week 1), and they point to two areas.

Bowe faced off against some of the NFL’s top pass defenders for a starting point.

He faced Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib in Week 2, Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes in Week 3, New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis is Week 4 and the San Francisco 49ers ranked seventh against the pass entering Week 5’s contest.

Bowe’s best game of the young season surprisingly came against Revis, a three-time All-Pro selection, when Bowe produced five catches for 81 yards on six targets. Revis is widely regarded as the NFL’s best shutdown cornerback, but the Chiefs didn’t shy from throwing his way in Week 4.

The last area is coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense.

This can’t be stated enough, but Reid’s scheme isn’t designed for a single wide receiver to dominate the passing attack. His offense spreads the ball around among the pass catchers.

Reid’s system produced just three 1,000-yard wide receivers going back to 1999 when he first became a head coach in Philadelphia. The three chosen ones are Terrell Owens (2004), Kevin Curtis (2007) and DeSean Jackson (2000-11).

Bowe will have his moments this season, but be realistic with expectations given the scheme.

Don’t expect a repeat of his Pro Bowl 2010 season or even weekly numbers comparable to the likes of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant or Larry Fitzgerald.

Those wide receivers, all of whom are regarded among the NFL’s elite wide receivers, are for the most part heavily featured in their respective team’s passing attack.

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