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Chiefs confident Edwards-Helaire can turn around ground game

·4-min read
Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, right, runs with the ball as Cleveland Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (4) defends during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — There were eyebrows raised across the league for two very different reasons when Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach spent a first-round pick on running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire last year.

The first reason: The Chiefs already had playmaking wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins along with tight end Travis Kelce surrounding Patrick Mahomes, creating one of the most dynamic offenses in recent NFL history.

It was as if the rich were getting richer adding Edwards-Helaire to the mix.

The second reason: The Chiefs had glaring holes on the other side of the ball, particularly in the secondary and along the defensive line, where they had struggled since the heyday of Tamba Hali to consistently pressure the quarterback.

Maybe the Chiefs were simply planning to outscore everyone.

Yet two weeks into Edwards-Helaire's sophomore season, none of that has gone as planned. The former LSU star has struggled to produce within coach Andy Reid's high-powered offense, faring no better than unheralded running backs such as Darrel Williams and Jerrick McKinnon, while that defense still has plenty of problems.

And outscoring opponents? That didn't work last week in Baltimore, when the Chiefs lost 36-35 to the Ravens — and a rare fumble by Edwards-Helaire prevented Kansas City from having an opportunity to kick a winning field goal.

“We'll need him the whole entire season. Don't let one play define you,” Mahomes said afterward. “It's a long season and if we want to be great and have a chance to have another run at this thing, he's going to be an important part of it.”

Indeed, the odds have been stacked against Edwards-Helaire ever since he joined the league.

His rookie offseason was wiped out by the pandemic, as was the entire preseason, keeping him from taking the field for a real snap until the Chiefs' regular-season opener. Edwards-Helaire was forced to learn on the job with the defending Super Bowl champions, a task that became downright impossible when he was sidelined by a high ankle sprain.

He also spent part of last season running behind a makeshift offensive line, after injuries sent such stalwarts as Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz to the bench. In fact, none of the five that started up front for Kansas City against Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl is starting this season after they were so soundly beaten by the Buccaneers in February.

Edwards-Helaire isn't quite a rookie anymore, but he still seems to be running uphill.

He hurt his ankle again in the preseason, though he returned for the opener against Cleveland, and that rebuilt offensive line includes three first-year starters — two of them freshly drafted — and is still trying to build some cohesion.

No wonder Edwards-Helaire has just 27 carries for 89 yards through the first two weeks of the preseason.

“We’ll just play it by ear as we go there,” Reid said, when asked whether the Chiefs needed to better establish a ground game. "We’ll run it, but we also want to be able to throw it. I think the better you can do both, the better off we’ll be.”

More damning for Edwards-Helaire than his production has been the production of others. Williams is averaging more yards per carry and is getting the touches in the red zone, and McKinnon has emerged as the preferred option out of the backfield.

Jonathan Taylor, who was chosen nine spots later in the 2020 draft, ran for 1,169 yards and 11 TDs as a rookie in Indianapolis last season. The Ravens' J.K. Dobbins, take even later in the second round, had 805 yards and nine scores as a rookie.

Of course, there is still plenty of time for Edwards-Helaire to turn things around in his young career.

Doing it soon could help turn around the Chiefs' fortunes this season, too.

“We're not putting the blame on anybody in particular. That's not how we roll,” Reid said. "All of the players have trust in him, but he can learn. If we can learn from the mistakes we made (against Baltimore), then we’re going to be a better team, and you've got to grow together. Sometimes there’s going to be some highs and some lows in this thing, and you've got to work through it and try to get yourself better, coaches and players.”

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