KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs treated Jamaal Charles like a fragile, valuable piece of jewelry in training camp, rarely letting the running back get hit in an attempt to keep him safe.
Through the first four games of the regular season, not much has changed.
Despite averaging more than 5 yards per carry, among the best in the league, Charles has only been given the ball 11 times each of the past two weeks.
And while he’s also caught a handful of passes out of the backfield, Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s reluctance to put the game on his shoulders comes despite his team losing three straight and falling into the AFC West cellar.
“I’m just here to win, man,” Charles said Wednesday, when asked whether he was getting enough carries. “I have to go with it. I can’t be mad with every call.”
Still, he would have good reason to be upset with the past couple of weeks.
He gained 49 yards on his 11 carries against Green Bay, giving the Chiefs (1-3) a bit of pop from an otherwise blase offense. He had 75 yards on the same number of carries against Cincinnati, even though Charcandrick West subbed in for him during much of the second half.
Charles said Wednesday that he had some minor cramping in the game, but he also said he feels healthier overall than last season, when he dealt with numerous nagging injuries.
“Sometimes you just catch it in the wrong situation to get the ball,” said Charles, who played 59 of the team’s 75 offensive snaps against the Bengals.
Running backs tend to be multifaceted in Reid’s offense, though, so the number of carries that Charles gets is only part of the equation. Much like Brian Westbrook and others when Reid was with the Eagles, Charles is asked to be a big piece of the passing game as well.
He already has 20 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown.
“He had a couple catches for us that were pretty good, and had opportunities for a couple others that would have been pretty good too,” Reid said, when asked whether 11 carries are enough for one of the game’s biggest threats. “As much as we move him around, I’m OK with that.”
It’s not as if Charles is infallible, either. He fumbled twice against the Broncos, the second time in the final seconds to essentially gave Denver a come-from-behind victory.
But his ability to break a game open is rare in the NFL, where platoons at running back have become common, and where quarterback play has become the biggest factor in a team’s success.
He has already become the Chiefs’ career rushing leader, and he has the most touchdowns (38) in the NFL over the past three seasons. He trails only Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes for the most rushing attempts in franchise history, and his three 200-yard rushing performances are the three most dominant performances by a running back in Kansas City.
“I still see a guy that’s very explosive,” said Bears coach John Fox, whose team will try to slow down Charles on Sunday. “He can hit a home run any time.”
The Chiefs could certainly use a couple of home runs. Even a double or triple would be nice.
Most of the points they have scored the past couple of weeks have been while trying to mount comebacks in Green Bay and Cincinnati. The Chiefs have been far less successful at getting on the board early, not to mention getting into the end zone at all.
All of their points last week came on a franchise-record seven field goals by Cairo Santos.
“I feel like last week we did come out with a lot of energy. We just didn’t execute,” Charles said. “I look back at the three teams we played, two games we should have had, and one game we did not come out with enough energy. We’re learning. It’s a long season. Just have to grind.”