The Kansas City Chiefs have been without one of their main producers on offense for the better part of a month now.
Since October 12, second-year running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (MCL sprain) has been on injured reserve, putting a halt to his inconsistent sophomore campaign in which he has racked up 304 rushing yards, 65 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns through five games. There was also the costly fumble late in the Week 2 loss against the Baltimore Ravens followed by another fumble in Week 3’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
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When Edwards-Helaire was healthy, his usage was inconsistent out of the backfield. He did earn double-digit touches in every game except for Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills, which is when he suffered the knee injury and was knocked out of the game. However, the Chiefs offense would abandon him on many occasions due to the defense allowing points early and often, coupled with a turnover-happy offense that would put the defense back on the field much more than they should have.
So, giving CEH a healthy dose of carries through four quarters wasn’t always in the cards for Kansas City.
With that being said, that won’t be the case for the Chiefs offense when Edwards-Helaire returns from injured reserve. And there’s a “pretty good chance” of that happening in Week 11 when the defending AFC champions take on the Dallas Cowboys at Arrowhead Stadium, according to head coach Andy Reid.
Because of a recent shift in ideology on offense as well as an improved defense, Edwards-Helaire is primed to have a breakout role in Kansas City’s backfield once he returns.
Chiefs Offense Content With Check Downs
During CEH’s IR stint, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Patrick Mahomes shifted the mindset of the Chiefs’ offense. This involved being content with short passes, which opposing defenses were offering while they put two-high safeties in the defensive backfield to prevent deep throws from Kansas City. It took until Week 10 against the Las Vegas Raiders for the Chiefs offense to finally adhere to their new identity, but when they accepted it, they thrived.
In the 41-14 divisional win, Patrick Mahomes completed 35 of 50 pass attempts for 406 yards and five touchdowns. This was by far the best game of the season for Mahomes, who had gone seven straight games with at least one turnover prior to his outing against Las Vegas. But why he succeeded is why this is being written.
While Mahomes got his top two targets — Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce — very involved, catching seven and eight catches, respectively, along with two touchdowns for Hill, there was another player that led the team in catches: running back Darrel Williams.
In Week 11, Williams caught a career-high nine passes on nine targets for a career-high 101 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Against a Raiders team that knows exactly what the defending AFC champions are capable of on offense, Mahomes for the first time this season used his running back frequently instead of trying to force the ball downfield. While he did take plenty of shots deep — making eight throws of 20 or more air yards downfield and completing three of them, per PFF — his content in completing passes to his check down was a huge improvement by Mahomes, who showed an inability to do so for the better part of two months.
“Sure, zone teams, you’ve got to be able to check the ball down,” head coach Andy Reid explained during his Monday, November 15 press conference. “That’s just how it goes, especially when they work at not giving you the deep throw. So, your short-intermediate game becomes very important and how we call plays to stretch the field becomes important, horizontally, and vertically to create some space to throw. All that’s important, but for him to be able to use his checkdown I think is big. The back’s always been a big contributor in this offense and the pass game.”
The biggest beneficiary of zero turnovers over the last two weeks from the offense has been Kansas City’s defense, who haven’t allowed more than 17 points in a game since Week 7’s blowout loss to the Tennessee Titans. Since then they’ve given up 17, 7, and 14 points to the Giants, Packers, and Raiders, respectively.
Granted, a strong case can be made that none of those offenses are explosive enough to cause trouble even for a struggling defense. But the health and cohesiveness of the Chiefs’ defense over the past month have that unit trending upwards after a disastrous first half of the season.
That in turn has given the Chiefs offense a positive game script consistently, allowing a more balanced attack for them. That’s why Williams has had 13, 19, and 11 carries on the ground over the past three games along with an increased target share, per Pro Football Reference, while Derrick Gore also had 11 carries against New York in Week 8.
How CEH Factors Into New Chiefs Ideology
Coming out of college, Edwards-Helaire was the most natural pass catcher in his draft class.
This was evident when, despite having talented wide receivers like Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, quarterback Joe Burrow completed 55 pass attempts for 453 yards and a touchdown to Edwards-Helaire during their final season at LSU together in 2019, per College Sports Reference.
But despite that ability, a combination of the scheme on offense and his development has stunted Edwards-Helaire’s ability to showcase consistently what he can do in the passing game with the Chiefs.
Through five games this season, CEH had only been targeted 10 times in the passing game, catching eight of them for 52 yards and the two touchdowns. While his usage as a pass-catcher mirrors how he was utilized in the passing game as a rookie — catching 36 passes for 297 yards and one score in 2020 — head coach Andy Reid noted during the summer that Edwards-Helaire could be more involved in the passing game now that he had a year of experience under his belt. But hasn’t happened…yet.
However, that is likely going to change moving forward.
With a shift taking place for Kansas City offensively paired with strong defensive play, it puts Edwards-Helaire in a position to have a monster second half of the regular season. If he’s able to get a target share similar to what Williams received against Las Vegas, and Kansas City is able to have a positive game script consistently moving forward, then the 2020 first-round pick will become one of the most valuable running backs in the NFL. It is only then that the Chiefs will get help CEH to reach his full potential as a dual-threat running back.
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