We continue our rushing retrospective series with a look at the 2010 NFL season. That year, it was the mauling Midwestern Kansas City Chiefs squad who led the way.
Matt Cassel was coming into his own, Jamaal Charles was entering his prime, and Todd Haley was anything but the punchline he became several years later. In fact, he and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis drew up a strong enough offense to get their team to a 10 win division title.
When the postseason rolled around though, the facade began to crack:
2010: Cassels made of sand
The Kansas City Chiefs were in an interesting spot at this point in time – their 24-year-old star running back Jamaal Charles was at the absolute height of his powers, and the rest of their roster looked to be in a decent spot to compete in the AFC. Similar to the Jets though, the one problem initially appeared to be behind center.
The year prior they had traded for quarterback Matt Cassel (who had just had a nice 2008 season in relief of Tom Brady) and signed him to a long-term deal. After a rough go of things in 2009, that wasn’t looking too smart, but in 2010 Cassel was able to turn it around a bit and prove that he wasn’t the problem, at least not at first.
Starting 15 games, he completed 58.2% of his passes, for 3,116 yards, 27 TDs and just 7 INTs to the tune of a 10-5 record. Those are very respectable numbers that are probably somewhat aided by what was a very impressive rushing attack for Kansas City that season.
The aforementioned Charles was the centerpiece of it, running the rock 230 times for 1,467 yards and 5 touchdowns on a 6.4 yards-per-carry average. It wasn’t just him in the mix though; Thomas Jones from the ‘09 Jets was also heavily involved as a second back, going for 896 yards and 6 touchdowns of his own.
What’s interesting about that is the indicator that this was a true marriage of good scheme under Todd Haley and great talent with those two players. With the Jets it may seem a bit more manufactured looking back on it, but this rushing attack very much looks like it was the real deal.
Cassel’s competence certainly had to have helped them as did the game planning from Haley, who if nothing else has had a decent amount of success as an offensive play caller. Overall though, this team was not as good as the ’09 Jets had been – while the Jets’ rushing attack was just a part of what made them great, the end result of the season may indicate that Kansas City was much more reliant on theirs in ’10.
In the playoffs that year though, it all came apart in the very first game. The Chiefs were a relatively weak division winner at 10-6 and ran into a buzz saw with the 12-4 wild card Ravens coming into town. After a 41-yard rush by Charles for a touchdown that put Kansas City ahead on just their second drive, the wheels fully came off.
Cassel threw for only 70 yards on 9 of 18 attempts, and was picked off three times by an opportunistic Ravens D. In this way, our 2010 rushing champion tells us a somewhat similar tale to what our ’09 Jets did; that over reliance on one particular aspect of the game can ultimately be your undoing. More specifically, they indicate that all will come clear when it’s time to separate the men from the boys.
Unlike Sanchez, all of Cassel’s numbers seem to suggest he was a big part of why the team was able to win double digit games that season. That is, until you dig into them a bit more; in 2010, the Chiefs didn’t necessarily face off against the strongest defenses with the numbers breaking down as such:
- They faced a top 10 unit twice, but that was the same team (San Diego) who were ranked 10th
- They faced a top 20 unit four times in St. Louis (12th), Cleveland (13th), Tennessee (15th), and San Francisco (16th)
- The rest of the way were units ranked between 20th and 32nd, in Oakland twice (20th), Indy (23rd), Seattle (25th), Jacksonville (27th), Buffalo (28th), Houston (29th), Arizona (30th), and Denver twice (32nd)
In terms of a win-loss breakdown, the results are actually pretty mixed, but if anything, that only proves the point that Cassel’s numbers (and the rushing totals) may have been a bit inflated as 11 of their 16 games came against defenses ranked in the league’s bottom half; his three interception playoff debacle came against the 3rd ranked D in Baltimore. From that standpoint, the 2010 Chiefs tell us that context matters, and you have to be honest with yourself about what kind of team you have, especially if you’re in the team’s front office.
That took a bit to take hold when it came to Cassel and Kansas City’s. Despite a very nice statistical 2010 season, injuries and ineffective play saw him released from the Chiefs two seasons later. Apparently, with rushing champs, we can’t always trust the numbers; moving forward ever more into what is a passing league, be sure to do so at your own risk.