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Chiefs' Edwards-Helaire out

The Kansas City Chiefs will be without Clyde Edwards-Helaire for their wild-card playoff game against the Steelers on Sunday night after their starting running back was unable to put together a full week of practice because of a hurt collarbone. 

Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed Friday that Edwards-Helaire would be ruled out for the playoff opener after he returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday but did not practice at all Thursday or Friday.

“It wasn't quite as good as what it might be and we thought it might be,” Reid said.

The oft-injured Edwards-Helaire missed five games earlier this season with a sprained knee ligament. He returned to start five more games before leaving early in the second half of the Chiefs' 36-10 romp over Pittsburgh on Dec. 26.

The injuries have turned the 2020 first-round pick into an afterthought in the Kansas City offense. Edwards-Helaire has run for just 517 yards and four touchdowns with 19 catches for 129 yards and two scores in parts of 10 games this season.

In his place, former undrafted free-agent Darrel Williams has turned into a reliable option in the backfield. He's started seven times this season and run for 558 yards and six touchdowns with 47 catches for 452 yards and two scores, giving him more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his four-year career.

The Chiefs also have been relying on another undrafted free agent, Derrick Gore, and journeyman Jerick McKinnon.

“I think us as a room, we all collectively have a lot of similarities,” McKinnon said Friday. “The only thing I bring extra is that I bring the energy. The guys can thrive off that and feed off that.”

Despite the revolving door in the backfield, the Chiefs are ranked third in the league in total offense and fourth in scoring, and they have topped 100 yards rushing in their past three games and four of their past five.

“My comfort level is where it always is: the next man is up,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “The thing is, Clyde is going to do everything he can to be out there and we’re going to let the people take care of what they need to take care of. But on top of that, (running backs coach) Greg Lewis is doing a heck of a job with those guys. When given an opportunity, those guys have proven that they can rise to the occasion."

It's not just the running backs, though. Even quarterback Patrick Mahomes has gotten into the act, hurting defenses with his ability to scramble away from the pocket. He led the Chiefs with 54 yards rushing in their regular-season finale against Denver, when five different players got a carry and McKinnon hauled in a touchdown reception.

Williams was slowed by a toe injury against the Broncos, but he practiced all week and will be available against Pittsburgh.

“We've just rolled guys in and everybody has had their little role with the offense,” Reid said. “We'll keep doing that. We try to keep guys fresh the best you possibly can against a really good defense. It won't be any different than in the season.”

Opinion issue in Houston

Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio on Friday defended his decision to fire head coach David Culley after just one season, citing differences in opinion about the organization's path forward.

The Texans announced the firings of Culley and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly on Thursday night following a 4-13 season.

"When you look at the way we played — the effort and toughness and consistency and competitive spirit that we played with — a lot of that should be attributed to David," Caserio said. "Philosophically, there were some things in the end that maybe we saw a little bit differently, and that was the impetus for the decision that we made yesterday."

Culley's dismissal left only one Black head coach in the NFL, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brian Flores was fired this week after leading the Miami Dolphins to a 9-8 record.

The 66-year-old Culley spent 43 seasons as a college and NFL assistant before finally getting his first head coaching job.

Caserio declined to go into details over where he differed with Culley and stressed that it was his decision to fire him.

"It's about fixing problems and finding solutions," Caserio said. "We need to do a better job of that, and I need to do a better job of that. It's not necessarily one specific thing. In the end, there were some differences about next steps and how we move forward, not necessarily rear-view mirror about what has happened."

Culley was hired last January to replace Bill O'Brien after working as an NFL assistant since 1994. He took over a team that went 4-12 in the 2020 season with Deshaun Watson at quarterback.

"We're in a lot better position, and quite frankly, I think that's because of the leadership and guidance and direction that David Culley provided this football team," Caserio said. "I have a lot of personal respect and appreciation and admiration for what David did for this team. Forever, we'll be indebted to him for what he did for us."

Watson requested a trade around the time Culley was hired, and before 22 women filed lawsuits against the QB alleging sexual harassment or assault. Those issues kept Watson sidelined all season and precipitated a rebuild in Houston that left Culley at the helm of a depleted team.

Culley didn't have much of a chance without Watson and with a roster where most of the few remaining quality starters were traded or released as the season progressed.

A month after Culley joined the Texans, longtime star defensive end J.J. Watt asked for his release from the team. Houston gave it to him, and he signed with the Arizona Cardinals.

Texans owner Cal McNair on Thursday thanked Culley for his work and looked to the future.

"I have entrusted Nick Caserio to lead football performance, and I have complete confidence he will find the best leader for our team," McNair said in a statement. "These decisions are difficult, but Nick believed it was necessary for the future of our organization. We look forward to continuing to build our roster and finding the right coach to lead us forward."

The Texans finished last in the NFL with just 278.1 yards per game and 30th in the league in scoring with 16.5 points per game.

"It's about production," Caserio said of the offense and the firing of Kelly. "There are some areas, quite frankly, where we need to do better. I have a lot of respect for Tim, and I think Tim is a good coach, but that was just one thing we felt like we needed to do to move forward in the organization."

Kelly had been with the Texans in various roles since 2014 and had been the offensive coordinator since 2019.

Caserio and the Texans will now look to replace Culley and Kelly. Caserio said it's too early to know if more coaching staff changes will come, and that many of those personnel decisions could be up to the next head coach.

Caserio said there's no timeline on hiring the next head coach and that the organization will be thorough and patient.

"The head coaching position is probably a leadership position more than anything else," Caserio said. "My responsibility is to continue to provide support and infrastructure so the entire organization can succeed."

Beyond hiring a new head coach and offensive coordinator, the Texans will have their hands full with trying to find a solution to Watson's situation and evaluating how they want to use what could be the third overall pick.

"We have a lot of work to do," Caserio said. "This year, I feel like we put a really good foundation in place. When you move forward, our situation right now is a lot better than it was this time last year."

Denver's search

The Denver Broncos began their search for Vic Fangio's replacement in the Midwest, meeting with Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn ahead of their trip to Green Bay.

Broncos general manager George Paton and a team of executives were meeting Friday with Packers assistants Luke Getsy and Nathaniel Hackett after spending time with Glenn on Thursday.

"I am so happy for him," Hackett, Green Bay's offensive coordinator, said of Getsy, the team's QBs coach and passing game coordinator. "I mean he deserves this opportunity, for his name to get out there because he's a great coach."

The Packers are off this week after earning the NFC's top seed with a 13-4 record behind another stellar year from Aaron Rodgers, who was linked to the Broncos last summer when the star quarterback's disenchantment with his team went public.

The sides patched things up, at least for him to play in 2021, and he threw for 37 touchdowns with just four interceptions in another MVP-worthy season. Last month, Rodgers said he hadn't ruled out anything for 2022, whether it be returning to Green Bay next year, trying to play elsewhere, or even retiring.

"I think that I'm just enjoying this season for this season," Rodgers said.

Adding either Getsy or Hackett might make Denver an appealing destination for Rodgers should he want to move on after 17 years in Green Bay much like Tom Brady did after his long stint in New England.

Also on the Broncos' list for interviews to replace Fangio, whom they fired Sunday after he went 19-30 in three seasons, are several assistant coaches whose teams are in the playoffs. That includes both of Mike McCarthy's top lieutenants in Dallas: offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

Paton also wants to speak with offensive coordinators Eric Bieniemy of the Chiefs, Brian Callahan of the Bengals and Kevin O'Connell of the Rams, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo.

All of the candidates are at least a decade younger than Fangio, who was 60 when he was hired as a first-time head coach in 2019, and six of them — Moore, Callahan, O'Connell, Gannon, Mayo and Getsy — are in their 30s.

First up Friday was Getsy, whom Packers coach Matt LaFleur said was "an excellent communicator, great teacher, great team guy."

LaFleur said play-calling experience was vital to his own development, but he didn't believe coordinator experience was a prerequisite to become an NFL head coach.

"If you're alluding to Getsy, do I think he's ready? I think absolutely," LaFleur said. "... He's got all the qualities that you look for, I think, when you think about a leader."

Leadership is the top qualification that Paton said he's looking for in his head coach.

Fangio was notoriously dedicated to the defensive side in his three seasons in Denver, which ultimately led to his ouster as Pat Shurmur's stodgy offense and Tom McMahon's blundering special teams dragged down a team that never found a winning vibe under Fangio.

The Broncos have had 10 starting quarterbacks and no playoff appearances since Peyton Manning's retirement six years ago and are in the market for an upgrade at QB from Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock this offseason.

Hackett, who's also scheduled to speak with the Jaguars and Bears about their head coach vacancies, interviewed for the Falcons' job last year.

"It's not really as much Xs and Os as people would think," he said. "It's more just about kind of the person you are, how you would lead the team, how you would handle the team."

Bieniemy was a hot name in last year's coaching carousel, but never got an interview despite the Chiefs' consecutive trips to the Super Bowl behind Patrick Mahomes.

"I'm blessed and very fortunate to be part of that chatter and some of the things that are taking place," Bieniemy said, "but right now my focus is to make sure we're ready" to play the Steelers on Sunday.

Mayo played eight seasons at linebacker for Bill Belichick and has been on his staff for the past three years. He said he enjoyed laying out his football philosophies when he interviewed for the Eagles' opening last year and appreciates the interest he's drawn from the Broncos.

"It's a very humbling experience," Mayo said. "It's definitely a huge opportunity. Hopefully one day I get a chance to coach a team."

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