Old school is new school for Crennel, Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There’s a reason you treat Jamaal Charles like a Faberge egg, even though he can already cut on a dime again. There’s a reason you take a flier on Peyton Hillis, even though he allegedly pouted his way out of Cleveland. There’s a reason you find a creative way to use Dexter McCluster’s wheels.

And the reason is this: When Romeo Crennel’s teams run the ball respectably, they win 75 percent of the time. Seventy-five. Think about that.

The NFL resume for the Chiefs coach shows a record of 26-41 over four seasons in Cleveland and three games in Kansas City. But look closer: When Crennel’s squads have rushed for 130 yards or more as a team in a single game, he’s 15-5 (.750) in those contests. When they don’t, he’s 11-36 (.234).

In other words, it’s the difference between the Colts with Peyton Manning and the Colts with Curtis Painter. Heck, it’s a no-brainer.

“I feel like Romeo’s been there before, so he’s played a role to the players, he knows the players,” allowed Charles, whose 2011 campaign was ruined by a knee injury, as he met with reporters Tuesday at the Chiefs’ training complex. “Nothing against (former) Coach (Todd) Haley, but I feel like Romeo is going to be there for us and he’s going to let us rest more, being in the position that we want to win games and he wants to win games.”

This is a roster that’s put itself in a position to win games the old-fashioned way. Bash and slash, then bash again.

We’ve said before in this space that the NFL is a passer’s league now. If you have a golden arm, you ride it. The Chiefs have Matt Cassel. He can carry you, if he has to. But that’s not the primary objective. At least, you’d think.

No, this offense seems designed to go retro, to kick it old-school — on the ground. Crennel, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and general manager Scott Pioli have built an offensive line that pundits have already ranked among the NFL’s top 10, and a backfield that features two of the top six players in the league from 2010 in terms of total yards from scrimmage (Charles was second with 1,935; Hillis was sixth with 1,654). New receiver Kevin Boss checks in at 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, and Pioli may not be done shopping for tight ends yet.

Assuming they’re upright — Charles says his left knee is 80 percent back to normal and his healing well ahead of schedule — Jamaal and Peyton could be to the Chiefs what Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott were to the Buccaneers during Tampa Bay’s ascent under Tony Dungy. Thunder and Lightning.

Share the carries. Share the wealth. Share the glory. And Charles, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last Sept. 18 in Detroit, is all for it.

“(Hillis is) going to come in and get all the tough yards and all the power, and I feel like that was the same thing when Thomas (Jones) was here,” offered Charles, who toted the ball 420 times for 2,587 yards combined in ‘09 and ‘10. “I don’t really care. I’m not a selfish player, and I just want to win. If he can contribute to the team and put points on the board, why not? I don’t care about how many yards; I feel like every week if we win the game, I don’t have any complaints.

“We brought him in to win games. We didn’t bring him in to compete with one another, but we’ll compete with each other in a certain way. But I don’t think, ‘He’s on this team, I’m on that team, I want to beat him up.’ I want to play with him, and be his best friend.”

For his part, Hillis told reporters last week that he’s keeping “an open mind. That’s what I’m going to do. And whatever role they’re going to give me, I’m going to try to be good at it and try to succeed.”

Even the smallish McCluster, all 5-foot-9 of him, once logged a dozen carries in the 2011 season finale at Denver. There ought to be plenty of touches to go around. Health permitting, of course.

“Jamaal’s looking good,” McCluster said of Charles, who’s been catching balls and making quick cuts for the past two months without incident but may be a limited participant in the Chiefs’ upcoming organized team activities (OTAs). “We’re doing footwork drills in the weight room, and he’s smooth. And he hasn’t lost a step. He still has that same glide.”

That glide got Charles to the Pro Bowl in 2010, and the Chiefs into the postseason. More fun facts: When it won the AFC West two seasons ago, Kansas City notched at least 130 rushing yards as a team in 11 out of 16 games during the regular season, winning 10 of them. It got 129 rushing yards or fewer in five games — and lost all five. In 2011, the Chiefs reached the 130 mark just seven times, winning four of those tilts. In the other nine games, they were 3-6.

So, basically, let’s recap: Over two years, that’s 14-4 when the team hits 130 on the ground, 3-11 when it doesn’t.

Like we said, it ain’t rocket science. Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers can’t beat you if they don’t have the ball in their hands. That’s the Chiefs’ theory, and they’re sticking to it.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com