Key matchup: Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles vs. Bucs run defense

Dan Parr
AFC West Spin cycle: What are Chiefs doing with Charles?

In today’s Key Matchup, we delve into the looming battle between the league leader in rushing yards and Tampa Bay’s run defense.

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles vs. Buccaneers run defense

Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel said Wednesday it is too early to tell whether Matt Cassel (concussion) will be able to play Sunday when Kansas City visits the Buccaneers. Cassel did not practice Wednesday and has not been cleared by doctors, so there still is a decent chance that backup Brady Quinn gets the start at quarterback. However, whether it’s Quinn or Cassel under center, the Bucs’ primary focus will be on limiting RB Jamaal Charles, who leads the league in rushing with 551 yards on 102 carries (5.4 average).

The Bucs have to believe that if they can keep Charles from breaking off big runs, Kansas City’s offense will be kept in check. Charles racked up a bunch of yards against the Ravens in Week Five (140 yards on 31 carries), but his longest rush was for 25 yards and all but two of his carries were for 12 yards or less. Kansas City’s dormant passing game produced only 11 completions for 124 yards and the team mustered two field goals in a 9-6 loss.

In his two games prior to the matchup with the Ravens, Charles broke loose for TD runs of 37 (vs. the Chargers) and 91 yards (vs. the Saints). Those are the types of plays he’s capable of making on any given down and the ones the Bucs have to be obsessed about not allowing as they try to end a three-game losing streak.

While Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe — and Charles — can hurt a defense after the catch, it will be no surprise if Bucs head coach Greg Schiano puts an extra defender — perhaps SS Mark Barron — inside the box, puts one safety deep (Ronde Barber or Ahmad Black) and challenges Quinn or Cassel to beat his defense through the air.

Stopping the run is one of the few things the Bucs had done on a consistent basis prior to their last game in Week Four, when the Redskins became the first team to rush for more than 100 yards vs. Tampa Bay this season (the absence of injured DE Adrian Clayborn was noticeable).

The Bucs are still ranked fourth vs. the run and are allowing only 3.2 yards per carry, but Charles is the most dynamic back the Bucs will have faced this season. His shiftiness has the potential to give their front seven fits. LBs Quincy Black, Mason Foster and Lavonte David will have to tackle well, and DRE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who was promoted to the starting lineup after Clayborn went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week Three, will have to step up to set the edge when Kansas City runs the ball his way.

The Chiefs likely will attack Te-o-Nesheim’s side of the line to see if he’s up to the task.