For the first time in the Patrick Mahomes era, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense will not feature what has been the league’s most dangerous, big-play threat: wide receiver Tyreek Hill. For this reason, the 2022 season won’t look quite the same.
So in this summer series — The Reid Remix — we’ll use statistics, film and quotes we’ve heard this offseason to preview how different aspects of the unit could look in the coming season.
What we know
Through two seasons (and 27 total games) as the team’s primary back, Edwards-Helaire’s overall impact is reflected in his statistics: a very solid, average output. He owns a career yards-per-carry rate of 4.4 yards, which happens to be the NFL average over the last two seasons.
Edwards-Helaire has had great highs — which were on display in the four 100-yard rushing games he has had. His best-looking carries seem to come on the Chiefs’ most commonly-used type of running play: inside zone runs.
CEH's strengths as a runner are best on display running inside zone/duo— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 15, 2022
He's comfortable setting up LBs by selling one gap, then using lateral explosion to get to another.
He seemed to add an extra gear once he got downhill in the playoffs. Love the angles he takes on these pic.twitter.com/1CAP6z1XPr
The straight-ahead, zone blocking allows Edwards-Helaire to manipulate the off-ball linebackers. With his short stature, he is already hard to locate through traffic. On top of that, he is an intelligent player who understands how to suck a linebacker into one gap before bouncing into another lane. He possesses exceptional lateral agility and explosion, which allows him to sell the initial action better than most other backs.
As effective as CEH is moving laterally on inside runs, outside stretch runs are tougher for his skillset— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 15, 2022
He doesn't have the speed to threaten around the edge, making it even harder to win on cutbacks cause defenders aren't as worried about getting to sideline pic.twitter.com/uBuzoSnArP
On the other hand, outside zone runs — which try to stretch the defense horizontally — just don’t fit Edwards-Helaire’s skills. He doesn’t have the top speed to threaten around the edge of the blocking, which relaxes defenders in their cutback lanes so they can more easily build a wall — giving a running back nowhere to go.
What can change in 2022
In his first season, Edwards-Helaire ranked sixth on the team in targets — although he was only five targets away from the fourth-leading spot. During his second year, injuries impacted his standing — but either way, he should see an uptick in throws this season.
First of all, his role in the offense may put him on the field more often on passing downs. In previous seasons, the coaching staff trusted running back Darrel Williams to play in most third-down passing situations; in 2021, Edwards-Helaire only saw five combined third-down opportunities. Without Williams, Edwards-Helaire is naturally the player to step into that particular role — although running back Jerick McKinnon (who was re-signed on Monday) won’t make it easy on him.
It is unlikely that new free-agent running back Ronald Jones will be leaned upon for these kinds of plays; his previous performances as a pass-catcher (and pass protector) have been insufficient. His impact is likely coming on first and second downs, where a higher-volume running game could utilize his strengths.
We're going to see the screen game ramped up this year, and CEH is going to be the biggest beneficiary as I project him to be the primary passing-down back— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 15, 2022
His lateral quickness and compact stature benefit him on these plays. Another yr of the IOL gelling won't hurt either pic.twitter.com/shG4nQvcmE
So this higher reliance on Edwards-Helaire for important passing downs will lead to more screens (and other primary routes) designed for him to move the sticks. He’s always been the preferred target on these types of plays — getting him into open space against individual defenders — but because he hasn’t been the primary back on passing downs, his opportunities have been limited.
If CEH takes over those 3rd down duties like I project him to, he'll see an uptick in production solely based off being the easy read on 3rd&shorts like these— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 15, 2022
Man cover (should see more of w/o Hill), CEH just bails to opposite side of LB covering him. Darrel ate off of these pic.twitter.com/grNZYZE9EE
If Edwards-Helaire is indeed able to transition into being the primary back on passing downs, he’ll be more likely to see targets on third-and-short plays like this one. Knowing that the defense is crowding the line of scrimmage (and using press-man coverage), a flare pass to a running back in the opposite flat of his man defender is an easy short-yardage conversion. In recent seasons, Williams has definitely seen the majority of these kinds of targets.
Finally, Edwards-Helaire is one of the few pass-catching options who is returning from last season. With wide receivers adjusting to a new scheme, Kansas City coaches (and quarterback Patrick Mahomes) could be more willing to lean on a familiar face for important conversions.
How he raises the offense’s ceiling
As the back with the most experience in Andy Reid’s system, Edwards-Helaire will find himself on the field for any sort of down. So if he truly is the most trusted third-down back, that gives the Chiefs another advantage: unpredictability.
Kansas City will not only be able to utilize his strengths as an early-down runner (or in short-yardage situations), but also as a receiver on any down. This will prevent defenses from picking up play-calling tendencies when he’s in the formation. This will be especially helpful if Kansas City can convert to a more downhill, vertical running game.
That unpredictability could spread to his play-to-play alignment, which has room to grow in 2022.
#Chiefs started showing a creative way to get the ball to CEH in pass game— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 12, 2022
These fake reload motions can catch a defense off guard, giving CEH a leverage advantage on his route
It started with an out, then an angle route. Intriguing to see what else comes from this package pic.twitter.com/DfGPDNvi3v
As we see here, the offense has already started experimenting with Edwards-Helaire running routes from the slot. Towards the end of 2021, the primary way to do that was using a traditional empty formation that sends a back to the outside — before motioning him back in to see how the defense would adjust. Midway through the motion, Edwards-Helaire would turn and run the route — either a speed out or an angle route.
Without Hill on the team, there’s even more reason to get creative in utilizing pre-snap motion and quick-hitting throws from unique packages.
An in-game example of the GT Counter that was all the fuss on #Chiefs twitter Saturday— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 4, 2021
Wylie/Remmers down block + Allegretti kickout opens hole. Fisher pulls through and blocks playside LB, even though he nearly gets flipped over. Darrel TD
Hope we see it more w/ the 2021 OL https://t.co/ly5kUpTyyV pic.twitter.com/FTEXSo7gVv
On this variation of a guard-tackle counter run, you see the running back take the handoff — while Hill runs to the flat in the opposite direction of the run. It’s a read play whose intent is to put the ball with the player who has the most space in front of them.
Imagine that play coming out of a two-back formation, where Edwards-Healire is in HIll’s place as a threat to take advantage of the open space.
The wrinkle can take advantage of the heavier defensive personnel that usually matches up against multi-back offensive formations — or hammer the ground game if the defense continues to stay in lighter formations.
If Edwards-Helaire is finally utilized as the versatile weapon that he was expected to be when he was taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, he could allow the Chiefs to become even more creative in their personnel packages.
In future editions of The Reid Remix, we’ll dive into other aspects of Kansas City’s 2022 offense.