It really is that simple. You cannot overstate just how important six-year veteran Jamaal Charles is to this Kansas City Chiefs offense. Not only does he lead the team with 1,287 rushing yards (third best in the league), he also has 13 more catches and 20 more yards receiving than first-choice wideout Dwayne Bowe.
The Indianapolis Colts traveled to Kansas City just two weeks ago and came out with an impressive 23-7 win over their Wild Card opponents; a victory aided in large part by the Colts’ ability to take Charles out of the game. After capping off the Chiefs’ first possession with a 31-yard touchdown run, the Pro Bowl running back was held to under 100 rushing yards for the remainder of the contest. A repeat performance from the Colts’ defense will be vital on Saturday afternoon if they want any chance of advancing to the next round of the playoffs.
The Colts finished the regular season ranked a lowly 26th against the run, giving up an average of 125.1 yards per game, 3.5 yards less than the Chiefs’ average rushing total. However, there have been signs of improvement over recent weeks. In their last three games, including the game against the Chiefs, the defense has held their opponent to an average of just over 100 yards.
Limiting the effectiveness of Charles puts the ball in Alex Smith’s hands and he has yet to prove himself to be a game-winning quarterback. When the Chiefs have fallen behind in games this year, they have struggled to claw their way back; the offense simply isn’t designed to chase a lead. A combination of conservative play-calling and average wide receivers means the Chiefs rarely threaten with deep passes. Both Bowe and seven-year veteran Donnie Avery have shown themselves to be inconsistent in big games with a slew of dropped passes and a visible lack of effort at times. If the Colts can stop Charles and put the Chiefs in obvious throwing situations, the pass rush, led by sack-title holder Robert Mathis, can pin their ears back and get after Smith in the pocket. That is exactly what happened two weeks ago in their first meeting, resulting in a flustered Smith losing a fumble and throwing two interceptions into the grateful arms of inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman.
Rarely in the NFL does a team need to focus all their efforts on one specific opposing player, but in this instance, stopping Charles will lead to a Colts victory. Of course, the task at hand is easier said than done.