KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The innovative mind of Chiefs coach Andy Reid can’t help but envision how certain players would fit into his offense.
Christian McCaffrey is a prime example.
To be a running back in Reid’s system, you must be able to do just about everything: run hard between the tackles and have the speed to get outside, pick up blitzes in the pass game and catch the ball out of the backfield. And that rare versatility is exactly what has made the Panthers running back one of the best in the NFL over the past couple of seasons.
“Sure, he would’ve fit in the offense well. I think probably every coach would say that in this league,” said Reid, whose defense could be faced with stopping him Sunday.
McCaffrey has been out since Week 2 because of a high-ankle sprain, but he looked good in practice this week and could be active for Carolina’s trip to Arrowhead Stadium.
“He was a heck of a college player and he’s doing a nice job in the NFL, so we’ll have to make sure we know what’s going on with him,” Reid said. “Their other running back (Mike Davis) is doing very well, too, filling in for him.”
Carolina coach Matt Rhule said there’s a chance Davis could start in the backfield, but that McCaffrey would get his touches.
“Christian brings elite production,” Rhule said. “On days when you’re not great on third down, he’s a tremendous third-down matchup. Explosive runs. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s one of the best in the National Football League. Like any great player, you feel better about your chances when he’s there than what he’s not.”
Reid never really got a chance to land McCaffrey, of course. He was chosen by the Panthers out of Stanford with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft. But the Chiefs turned out OK — they traded up to 10th and took Patrick Mahomes, who merely led the franchise to its first Super Bowl title in five decades last season.
“I mean, he’s a guy that can do it all,” Mahomes said. “He can catch the ball as well as he runs the ball, and he runs the ball so well. He’s a mismatch for defenses. He can run between the tackles. He has the speed to beat guys outside, and he’s such a talented receiver as well. Super talented guy.”
The Chiefs eventually got their McCaffrey-style running back when they picked Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of LSU in the first round of April’s draft. And when they added two-time All-Pro Le’Veon Bell a few weeks ago, it suddenly left the high-octane Kansas City offense with one of the best backfields in the NFL.
“The biggest thing is how he practices. Le’Veon came in and he just brought in a little different pep,” Edwards-Helaire said. “It up-tempos the competition, the way we compete day-in and day-out. Off the field, friends; on the field, doing anything in our power to get on the field and compete.”
The Panthers secondary will get some much-needed help with cornerback Rasul Douglas returning from a two-game stint on the COVID-19/reserve list. Claimed off waivers before the start of the season, Douglas has been a pleasant surprise, becoming the Panthers’ most reliable cover man — especially as cornerback Donte Jackson has struggled with injuries.
“Rasul is a big part of our defense,” Rhule said, “not just physically but emotionally.”
SPEAKING OF RETURNS
The Chiefs could have wide receiver Sammy Watkins back from his ailing hamstring, which has kept him out the past three games, along with fullback Anthony Sherman, who has been on the COVID-19 protocol list because of suspected contact.
BALL CONTROL WOES
While one of the keys to beating the Chiefs is keeping Mahomes off the field, ball control has been an issue for the Panthers this season. Opponents have run 135 plays to their 95 over the past two games, a huge gap largely due to Carolina’s inability to win on third downs. Carolina was 2 of 12 on third-down conversions in its Week 8 loss to the Falcons.
Teddy Bridgewater has spent the past two games under pressure, forcing him to take sacks or throw the ball away. The Panthers hope to get veteran left tackle Russell Okung back from a two-week calf injury, and that would certainly help.
“When Teddy is upright, he’s playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League,” Rhule said. “When the quarterback’s been under duress, we haven’t been the offense that we want to be in.”
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