Playing The Numbers Game

The numbers game is always interesting.

Consider that Jamaal Charles should be the featured running back instead of Thomas Jones. The numbers are clear, aren’t they? Charles averages 6.4 yards per carry and can break the long one. Jones plods along at just 3.7 yards per carry.

Matt Cassel must improve his quarterback play or the Chiefs won’t ever accomplish what they should. The numbers are clear, aren’t they?

Here’s a look past the surface numbers that you don’t get in mainstream media.

Running backs

Coaches have numbers that indicate whether or not an individual play was a success.

Three runs of 3 yards each won’t get a first down, and the team punts. So a successful run is 4 or more yards. The exception: in short-yardage situations, any run that gains a first down or touchdown is a success.

Using that criteria let’s look at the numbers:

Jones is not successful on more than half his runs. You knew that right? Of 33 times he has carried the ball, he has gained 4-or-more yards just 13 times. Add in the short-yardage situations, and he has 14 running plays that are successful runs (counting the fourth-and-1 the Chiefs converted for first down). So he has a successful run 42.4 percent of the times he carries.

Charles, for all of his break-away speed and big-play capability, is even less efficient. Of his 22 runs this, just nine have gained 4 or more yards – a success rate of 40.1 percent. Against the Cleveland Browns, he had just four successful attempts in 11 carries.

Big-play capability is important. Charles has the two longest runs of the season for the Chiefs. His 56-yard jaunt against the Chargers was a game-changer. But take away his 56- and 20-yard gains and his average carry gains just 3.25 yards. Charles has two carries of minus yardage.

Thomas is seen as the plodder. His longest run of the season comes in at 11 yards. It came against the Browns on Sunday. Take away his two top runs of the season and he averages 3.26 yards per carry. He one carry for minus yardage.

The breakdown goes:



4 or more yards 

3 or fewer yards 

Successful runs 










* Thomas converted fourth-and-1 for first down against Cleveland.

Does this answer whether or not Thomas or Charles should be the feature back? Probably not. Does this give additional insight into why Thomas would be carrying the ball more than Charles? Perhaps.

What it does, is take you beyond the surface and sometimes superficial numbers straight from the stat sheet.


Does Matt Cassel need to play more effectively? Absolutely.

Are the numbers as simple to decipher as the stat sheet’s A-C-Ydg-TD-Int numbers? Not always. So here are a few other numbers to contemplate. After the touchdown/interception ratio, many coaches believe that the most important statistical number for a quarterback is the average yardage per pass play. This number reflects not only the percentage of completions, but where the quarterback is throwing the ball – downfield or underneath. The Chargers’ Phillip Rivers led the league in 2009 with an average gain per attempt of 8.75 yards. Cassel’s figure in 2009 was just 5.93 yards per attempt – near the bottom of the league.

In the Chiefs first game, played in a deluge against San Diego, Cassel’s numbers were abysmal. His average gain per attempt was just 3.08 yards. It was the worst in the league after Week One. Of 22 pass attempts, just five of them were for 7 or more yards. Counting the 2-yard touchdown pass to Tony Moeaki, Cassel had six winning pass attempts.

His second week was much better. He had nine completions of more than 7 yards. Two short passes gained first downs. So of his 28 passes, 11 were winning plays. His average gain per attempt was 6.28.

That still ranks him in the lower third of the league. But on this particular Sunday he was within sniffing distance of Tom Brady (6.89), Eli Manning (6.7), Don Hasselbeck (6.6), Sam Bradford (6.68) and ahead of Joe Flacco (3.95), Carson Palmer (4.78) Brett Favre, Tony Edwards and Kerry Collins.

Statistically speaking, it is difficult to determine much of a trend. But two games are what we have right now.


Run defense is the statistically most important figure a defense has. If you can’t defend the run, you can’t stop a team from protecting a lead in the fourth quarter. And it is demoralizing for a defense to give up yard after yard against offenses shoving it down their throat.

The Chiefs run defense is significantly better than it was a year ago. Using the reverse criteria for success defensively, the Chiefs have allowed 3.3 yards per rush. In the opener against San Diego, the Chargers had 29 runs, and the Chiefs held them to less than four yards 20 times. Count that as 19 successful plays because of one kneel down to end the half. Against Cleveland the Chiefs defense held the Browns to fewer than 4 yards on 15 of Cleveland’s 26 attempts. But because the Browns scored on a 1-yard run, 12 of their 26 runs would be considered a success.

A year ago the Chiefs gave up an average of 4.72 yards per play and ranked 31st against the run. So this season’s 3.3 yards per carry is a significant improvement to 8th in the league.

14 Responses to “Playing The Numbers Game”

  • September 20, 2010  - JohnNdallas says:

    Interesting read Mr Pulliam, I had never seen a break down like that before. That’ll dazzle the fellas I run with.

    Also like to thank you for stepping up and giving Gretz a hand, Outstanding!

  • September 20, 2010  - aPauled says:

    Very interesting. Just the facts man. Just the facts.

    Cassel’s numbers on Sunday were salvaged by the second half. I don’t even want to see where he was based solely on the first half. Guy’s got to get it going more consistently and start off the game making some plays.

    At RB, I’m not worried about Jones starting, but 11 touches for Charles isn’t enough. It’s not like we were leading the whole game and running the clock. We could have used that play making ability and given Charles a chance to break one.

  • September 21, 2010  - Dave says:

    I totally get the article and it’s a good one. Very good perspective. I would really like to see more passing plays to Charles/McCluster in the flats. It’s just the security blanket that Cassel needs in that we get Charles/McCluster in space to make plays, and it opens up the possibility that Cassel can make some deep completions and first downs. Combine those with Jones running between the tackles and we could have a good offense this season.

  • September 21, 2010  - el cid says:

    The only way passes to the flat or check offs to RB or TEs work is out of desparation or WR not being open (assuming you are not running timing patterns then the QB just did not throw the ball). Defenses are packing in with 8 in the box to stop the run and daring the Chiefs to pass to their WRS. Those type of short passes just add to the clutter and you cannot get yardage.

    Anyway until Cassel and the WRs start to contribute to the attack, the offense will be ugly and not on the field very long.

  • September 21, 2010  - Dave says:

    With 8 men in the box there isn’t enough time for the WR’s/QB to contribute until we spread the D out. I’m no coordinator but check offs seem to be an effective way of spreading the D and getting our best play makers the ball.

  • September 21, 2010  - PAChiefsFan says:

    Did miss your game breakdown Bob. I figured something was wrong. Hope you get back on your feet soon. Nice job of your guys picking up the ball in your absence.

  • September 21, 2010  - MarkInTexas says:

    Great breakdown Kent. Thanks for stepping in and up.

    You did let your age slip with your reference to Matt Hasselbeck’s dad, Don! :) )

  • September 21, 2010  - Kent Pulliam says:

    Nice catch on the tight end. Guess I must have been thinking that’s about the average if Matt had been throwing to Don. Heh heh heh.

  • September 21, 2010  - gorillafan says:

    heh heh heh????????????????????????


    Im joking!! I hope?

  • September 21, 2010  - jim says:

    With eight in the box to stuff the run, and CB’s lined up in press coverage with our “elite” WR’s who can’t get off the line, we’re screwed in the passing game. We have played two teams that have shut down our WR line release and that just isn’t getting it done.

    I’d like to see McCluster in the slot running Wes Welker type routes. Thought that’s what were lead to expect from him as a receiver.

    Maybe that’s the master plan for this week, along with JC getting more carries. Element of SURPISE.

    Yea, that’s it–surprise.

  • September 21, 2010  - Kent Pulliam says:

    I am not Rin. Bob and I covered the Chiefs together in the early ’80s at The Star, and I continued on through mid-90s when he went to the radio.

  • September 21, 2010  - gorillafan says:

    I know that was below the knees….

    I just thought Id throw that out there.

    Dont know you, but I know the name. Just kidding, I just seen the heh heh heh and couldnt resist!

  • September 21, 2010  - Kent Pulliam says:

    Heh heh heh. . . OK with me.Don’t care what you say about me, just keep reading. Heh heh heh

  • September 22, 2010  - Nate says:

    Jones carried the ball more than 340 times last year with zero fumbles. Todd Haley says we absolutely can’t turn the ball over if we are going to win. Charles has fumbled on his first carry of the game in the past. That’s why we don’t see more of Charles. The first time we get behind by 2 scores or more and need points in a hurry we will see a lot more of Charles. Nate

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