KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Just about anybody can carry the ball effectively for the Kansas City Chiefs these days.
Even a 346-pound defensive tackle.
Yes, that was big Dontari Poe plowing over the goal line in last Sunday’s 33-3 win over San Diego, which got the Chiefs back to .500 and into the thick of the AFC playoff hunt.
The sight of Poe doing his touchdown dance was certainly memorable, but more important to Kansas City’s four-game win streak has been the ability of unheralded running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware to carry the load after Jamaal Charles’s season-ending knee injury.
West ran for 276 yards and three touchdowns — and caught nine passes for 136 yards and another score — during the three-game stretch to start the win streak. When he hurt his hamstring against the Chargers, Ware proceeded to run 11 times for 96 yards and two more touchdowns.
So even though the Chiefs are without their biggest offensive talent in Charles, they are still grinding out more than 120 yards per game heading into Sunday’s matchup with Buffalo.
That puts them safely in the league’s top 10.
“In this game, the biggest thing is having trust,” said Ware, a former LSU star now in his second season in the league. “That’s having trust in a particular player, the coaching staff, and trust their game plans and things like that.”
Trust in the offensive line, too. The stellar play by the big guys up front, including rookie center Mitch Morse, has been as critical to the Chiefs’ ground success as anything else.
But when it comes to running backs, once one of the game’s marquee positions, the Chiefs’ approach to the position has followed a league-wide trend: They’d rather spend draft picks and big bucks on the passing game and defense than someone to carry the ball for a few measly yards.
Especially given the attrition rate. By the nature of the position, running backs are prone to injuries, and their shelf life tends to be just a few years even when they stay healthy.
So, many teams scrounge them up as cheaply as possible.
West was an undrafted free agent out of Abilene Christian who toiled on the practice squad, and earned a roster spot mostly because he could play special teams. Ware was a sixth-round pick of the Seahawks who signed with Kansas City when he was cut loose in the offseason.
Both are making $510,000, the league minimum for second-year players.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are paying nearly $8 million for Charles to spend most of his season rehabbing his second torn knee ligament. The injury wasn’t his fault, of course, just one of the dangers of playing the position.
But the Chiefs will ultimately get far more production out of their bargain signings than from one of the best running backs in the game.
“It’s tough as a running back in practice,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “For those guys, we’re not tackling during the week. It’s tough to see that extra juice that those guys bring until you get into a live situation.”
Nobody is suggesting the Chiefs wouldn’t be better off with Charles, a two-time All-Pro and one of the game’s dynamic offensive players. But they have also thrived without him, in part due to the time Charles has spent tutoring his understudies.
“He’s the main reason I’m having the little success that I’m having,” West said. “All credit goes to him and the offensive line. The team is doing a great job.”
Notes: DL Allen Bailey (calf), LB Dee Ford (back) and OL Ben Grubbs (neck) joined West in missing practice Wednesday. … WR De’Anthony Thomas has not passed the NFL concussion protocol. Jeremy Maclin, Chris Conley and Albert Wilson would replace him in kickoff and punt return duties, special teams coach Dave Toub said. … P Dustin Colquitt was the AFC special teams player of the week. “I’ve been lucky to have some good punters,” Reid said. “He’s done a nice job.”