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The Chiefs’ run game was respectable in 2020, finishing the season ranked 16th in the league averaging 112.4 yards per game.
Then-rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire paced the backfield with 1,100 total yards (803 rushing) and five touchdowns in 13 starts.
Optimism was high during the summer for a marked improvement behind a revamped offensive line, which features new starters at every position — including a pair of maulers at the guard positions in Joe Thuney and rookie Trey Smith.
Through two games, however, the Chiefs have taken a step back and enter Week 3’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers ranked 29th in the league, averaging a paltry 67.5 yards per game.
So, what gives?
“Yeah, you know we’ve looked at that and there are a couple things we have to do,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “And I think the backs being used to the offensive line and what they’re going to do in certain tight situations is important.
“I think the more they do it, the more confidence they build there, and we’ll hit it a little quicker than what we’re doing right now.”
Edwards-Helaire’s numbers show the team’s current struggles to establish the run game and the growing pains of a backfield getting accustomed to an overhauled offensive line.
While he leads the team in rushing, Edwards-Healire has tallied just 89 yards rushing on 27 carries, averaging just 3.3 yards per attempt and 44.5 yards per game. His backfield mates, Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon, also have yet to make an impact. Williams has 2 yards and a touchdown on four carries, while McKinnon has yet to record a single rush.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is better known for his arm, is second on the team in rushing with 21 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
But there are no worries about the sluggish start behind a new offensive line as far as Edwards-Helaire is concerned.
“Everything is kind of like a building-block process,” he said. “We all know how this game goes. Every week is something different, but there are times you’re going to get multiple looks that are the same.
“As far as gelling with the O-line and gelling with those guys up front, I mean, as far as what we’ve been showcasing and practicing, everything has been looking smooth. It’s really pinpointing things that we need to on film, those small things that some might see that miss the eye to others that really don’t know the scheme.”
Edwards-Helaire has also moved on from his late-game fumble, the first of his professional career, against Baltimore last weekend. So, apparently, have his teammates.
“Everybody kind of came around me and gave me that positive reinforcement, just to let me know,” he said. “Even Pat (Mahomes) Trav (Travis Kelce), just the whole offense, just kind of putting it in my head, ‘Man, it sucks that it happened, but ultimately it was your first one.’”
The turnover aside, Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck on Thursday pointed to details in the run game that Edwards-Helaire mentioned. Heck said running the football involves a certain mindset, toughness and understanding of scheme.
The position coach also said a collective effort from all 11 players on offense is also essential. Because all it takes it one player to be off, even for a second, for things to not work.
“We’re going to ask everybody to be involved with it, and if you’re off just a tick in one of those two things usually, either the scheme — ‘Hey we were supposed to double this guy and create a seam right here’— if you’re off a tick there, the play can fail,” Heck said. “If you’re off a tick with an angle or a technique, the play can fail. So, when we’re struggling at times in the run game, that’s usually what I’m seeing.”
The Chiefs’ run game and Edwards-Helaire might be able to things going Sunday. Unlike the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, two current Top 10 defensive units against the run and the Chiefs’ opponents in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively, the Chargers rank 30th in the league in that department, allowing an average of 162 yards per game.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said Edwards-Helaire enjoyed a “prolific practice” on Wednesday.
Sunday seems like an exploitable matchup.
“The guys are working their tails off at it, and we’ll continue to do that,” Heck said. “But I love our backs, I love our line, and that’s something that will come together for us.”
Rookie center Creed Humphrey agreed.
“We’re gelling pretty quickly,” he said. “Everybody has been on the same page, for the most part. Everything is going well. It’s just now really about cleaning up those little details, working on the little details and that will really take our game to the next level.
“We’re excited, we’re hungry, we had a good week of practice and we’re just ready to get back on the field.”