One Too Many … Game-Day Cup O’Chiefs

Eight Men Out was a baseball movie from 20+ years ago about the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series.

Eight Men In is the live-action movie the Chiefs offense will see Sunday afternoon when they face the Arizona Cardinals. Kickoff is 12 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium. Television coverage is from Fox-TV, with Ron Pitts and John Lynch handling the duties in the booth.

Almost from the start of this 2010 season, the Chiefs have seen opposing defense pull a safety down to the line of scrimmage where he essentially becomes a linebacker. Whether the 3-4 or 4-3, one of the safeties is moving off the back line and joining the fray between the tackles.

Until the last two weeks, this was not a problem. The Chiefs have led the NFL in rushing yards since the sixth week of the season, pushing their average to as high as 190.4 yards per game after beating Buffalo. Over the last two weeks, that season average has dropped to 179.6 and now 176 yards.

In back-to-back division defeats to Oakland and Denver, the Chiefs could not get their running game moving. They had 34 carries for 104 yards against the Raiders in a game that was in doubt until overtime. They had just 51 yards on 22 carries against the Broncos in a game that was lopsided in the first quarter.  

That’s seven games with an average of 190.4 rushing yards per game, and the last two games with an average of 77.5 yards per game. So where did the other 113 yards go?

It would be wrong to assign all the explanation for this on Oakland and Denver putting eight men in the box. There are other factors that we will get too, but we’ll start with defense.

“We’ve been seeing that all year,” said veteran guard Brian Waters. “We’ve been able to beat it before. We are going to have to beat it again.”

As each game is played, there is more and more tape on the Chiefs running game, and that makes it easier for the opposing defenses to filter through the options and prepare a plan of attack. This would be especially true for divisional opponents, who have a much better idea of the personnel on their AFC West rivals than other teams.

So how does an offense find success against eight men in the box?

“You are not going to be able to block all eight or nine; the defense is capable of always having an extra hat in there,” said Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. There are ways to run away from that extra man and that’s where you get into some of the subtleties of counts or box counts.

“Communication becomes so critical for an offense understanding where the count starts, who is the person that we’re going to leave unblocked and generally you’d like that to be the furthest away from where the play is desired to go. That communication is critical, that’s going to become more critical for our offense.”

The lines of communication that make the running game work starts with the quarterback and then rolls to the center as he makes the blocking calls for the line. QB Matt Cassel and C Casey Wiegmann have to be able to identify the extra body and where he’s coming from.

“Obviously those two need to be thinking along the same lines,” Haley said. “When you’re at home it’s a little easier but that still doesn’t keep the defense from moving people around and disguising looks and things like that. The teams that have the most success as a group offensively, defensively and special teams are those that can adjust on the fly because so many things change in this game from one fraction of a second to the next.”

That extra man against Arizona will be S Adrian Wilson, one of the better defensive backs in the NFL. “We’ve got to be aware of where he is,” Haley conceded. “He is a big, strong, fast player, basically an extra backer that can run like a safety. They find as many different ways as they can to get him into the box in general. When that’s happening, you’ve got to be real sharp with your count; you’ve got to be real good in your passing game, he’ll probably be in coverage some on tight ends who have to win and we have to create advantageous matchups for the Chiefs.”

One of the other factors in the Chiefs struggle to run the ball is the absence of WR/RB Dexter McCluster. It wasn’t a problem against Buffalo, when they ran for 274 yards. But the last two weeks, things have been different.

“Dexter adds a little bit of flexibility in what we do from a personnel standpoint,” said Cassel. “But at the same time, we are getting a lot of the same defenses that we were getting early on in the year when they were trying to load the box with an extra safety to take care of the run.”

When McCluster was lined up in the slot that forced a safety or linebacker, sometimes both, to cheat out and cover him. That’s one less in the box. The Chiefs have tried to compensate by having RB Jamaal Charles play more often split wide or in the slot. But if he’s out there, the Chiefs can’t take advantage of his speed in the running game.

“You can’t really worry about them stacking the box,” said Charles. “They’ve been doing that all year. We just have to do what we do, and when there’s that extra guy, I need to make him miss. I have to go out there and make plays, make people miss.”

That’s where McCluster’s absence hurts Thomas Jones. The veteran running back does not have the speed or moves of Charles. To be effective, he needs clear running lanes through the line of scrimmage and into the second level of the defense. Charles just needs the crack in the line to run through.

The chances of McCluster playing against the Cardinals appear to be less than 50-50 as he tries to return from the sprained ankle. He’s not 100 percent running on the ankle, but maybe able to do enough that he can serve as a decoy.

Not having a real speed threat at wide receiver beyond McCluster hurts as well. If the Chiefs could lineup receivers on both sides of the formation, that extra safety would have a hard time coming down into the box.

We must also remember that the other guys get paid too. The Raiders are now 24th against the run, while the Broncos are No. 30. Coming up over the last seven games are those two teams plus Seattle (14), San Diego (4), St. Louis (6) and Tennessee (11).

There’s more than one reason for the Chiefs diminished run production. Whatever the major culprit, it needs to be solved if the Chiefs hold out hope of playing into January.


  • CARDINALS – signed RB Alfonso Smith from their practice squad; released WR Max Komar.
  • DOLPHINS – placed C Cory Procter on the injured-reserve list (knee) ending his season.
  • GIANTS – signed TE Jake Ballard off their practice squad; released DB D.J. Johnson.
  • LIONS – signed LB Caleb Campbell off their practice squad.
  • RAVENS – signed G Bryan Mattison from their practice squad; released OT Scott Kooistra.
  • SAINTS – placed LS Jason Kyle on the injured-reserve list (shoulder); signed LS Jake Ingram, formerly with Patriots.
  • VIKINGS – activated WR Sidney Rice from the reserve/PUP list.

One Response to “One Too Many … Game-Day Cup O’Chiefs”

  • November 21, 2010  - Dave says:

    It takes a special player to be a threat without carrying the ball. We need DMC back!

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