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Redskins vs. Chiefs preview: Kareem Hunt vs. Chris Thompson will be fun

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Thanks to Bill over at SB Nation’s Redskins blog, Hogs Haven, for answering our Redskins-Chiefs questions. For my answers to Bill’s questions, check it out at Hogs Haven. Our Q&A is below...

AP: What's all this talk about Chris Thompson? Safe to assume the Chiefs run D will be tested?

HH: Chris Thompson will likely test the Chiefs defense, though not necessarily their run defense. Thompson is an integral part of the Redskins passing attack who does not usually line up and run the ball on first and second down.

I know how excited Chiefs fans are with Kareem Hunt, so let me try to tell you about Chris Thompson by comparing the production of the two backs.

Here are some numbers from Week 3:

Kareem Hunt

Rushing – 17 attempts, 172 yards, 1 TD

Receiving – 1 reception, 11 yards

Chris Thompson

Rushing – 8 attempts, 38 yards

Receiving – 6 receptions, 150 yards, 1 TD

Here are season-long numbers through 3 games:

Kareem Hunt – 56 touches, 538 yards, 6 TDs (9.6 yds/touch, 1 TD every 9.33 touches)

Chris Thompson – 27 touches, 350 yards, 4 TDs (12.96 yds/touch, 1 TD every 6.75 touches)

This says that Kareem Hunt is a bigger part of the Chiefs total offense than Chris Thompson is for the Redskins, with Hunt getting about twice as many touches as Thompson.

Thompson is more of a receiving threat (in three games he has 14 rushes and 13 receptions) compared to Hunt, who has more typical running back numbers (47 rushes, nine receptions). Thompson is more efficient, because so much of his production comes in the receiving game.

Thompson is not the Redskins featured or every-down back; he comes in on second and long or third down plays. Like Hunt, CT is explosive, though Kareem has put up more explosive plays for more yards than Chris has. Chris has very sure hands, and gets most of his yardage in the passing game.

Chris can run between the tackles in a straight-ahead play, but is more likely to run wide and try to get round the edge with his speed and quickness, or to take a handoff on a trap or a draw. In fact, his longest run of the season was a 61-yard draw play against the Rams. Redskins coach Jay Gruden also likes to pull offensive lineman and get them out in front of CT to try to break him through the second level where he can turn on the jets, and that has been a very effective formula.

CT is also very skilled in pass pro, despite his diminutive size. At just 5’8, 191 pounds, he is much smaller than Hunt’s 5’11, 216 pound frame.

He is also the Redskins primary kickoff returner.

Because of his range of skills -- runner, receiver, blocker, and returner – the newest tee-shirt for sale at Hogs Haven reads: “Chris Army Knife”.

I think that Hunt and Thompson are two of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL this season. Kareem Hunt probably has a higher profile at this point due to his higher usage, and his unexpected offensive explosion in the season kickoff against the Patriots, but Chris Thompson is a similarly exciting player who came up big for the Redskins against the Raiders in prime time last Sunday, and will be trying to show off for a national audience again this Monday at Arrowhead Stadium. It should be a joy to see the two of them on the same field together!

AP: The Redskins lost a lot of talent at WR. Who are the top threats to be worried about in the passing game now?

HH: The Redskins passing game is not what it was last year. WR Pierre Garcon was a sure-handed possession receiver, who could stretch the field, but didn’t have to because of DeSean Jackson, who is still one of the fastest receivers in the league, and probably the best at tracking the ball while it’s in the air. Together, they created a three-level passing attack (short, medium, deep) that put a lot of stress on defensive backs.

The Redskins passing game under Jay Gruden, however, has always run through the tight ends. Jordan Reed is one of the most talented pass-catching tight ends in the league (not unlike your Travis Kelce). He is often described as “a wide receiver in a tight end’s body.” Reed is a natural hands-catcher with a wide catch radius who is capable of getting separation from linebackers, safeties, and even cornerbacks. His presence on the field creates mismatches for defenses.

When Reed is injured or needs a breather, Vernon Davis comes in. For those of you who saw Davis disappear in Denver following the trade that took him there from the 49ers – forget what you saw. Davis is a Virginia boy (like me) and coming home to play for the Skins last year was a revival for him. As the backup tight end, he had 44 receptions for 583 yards and two TDs in 2016. He’s got 71 yards and a TD as the Redskins No. 2 TE in three games this season. Take a look at his play in the Raiders game this past week; it is typical of what he does when he gets on the field for the Redskins. He gets open, has good hands, and is fast and agile after the catch.

The Redskins also have a third year slot receiver that some college football fans may remember from Duke --- Jamison Crowder. He’s the punt returner, and he is a shifty receiver who had two good seasons in ’15 and ’16, but who has also stepped up to a bigger role in the offense following the departure of Garcon and Jackson.

Of course, the Redskins have two players who should be actually replacing the top two wideouts. That would be Terrelle Pryor, who had 1,007 yards for Cleveland last year, and Josh Doctson, who was the Redskins first round draft pick in 2016. Doctson had injury issues and saw only a handful of snaps as a rookie, logging only two receptions.

Pryor has been … disappointing … in the first three games. He has looked slow out of breaks, dropped some balls, and overall hasn’t looked like the beast he was in the Browns offense last season. I think it’s just a matter of time before his “on” switch gets thrown, but until it does, the passing attack is a bit underpowered.

Josh Doctson nursed a hamstring throughout training camp. After being so nicked up as a rookie, this was very concerning to Redskins fans. Doctson saw 20 snaps in Week 1 vs. the Eagles, and 29 snaps against the Rams in Week 2, but didn’t record a catch in either game. In fact, he wasn’t even targeted in the Rams game. The word “bust” was starting to be whispered prior to the Raiders game, and for half of that game Doctson was a non-factor. He ended up being targeted only twice, and caught only one ball – his only reception of the season – but what a catch!

Doctson made all the highlight reels when he high-pointed a 50/50 ball and took it away from the cornerback, who thought he had an interception, then scampered into the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown. Doctson now has three career catches, for 118 yards (39.3/rec) and a TD. Immediately, all was forgiven with the Redskins fan base. We’ve now all seen what the coaches were seeing in practice. The Chiefs will need to be aware of Doc’s physical skills.

We have one other receiver who gets targets every game, Ryan Grant. After three years of underperformance, slips, drops and embarrassments, Grant has actually played well (for a No. 4 receiver) this season. He’s got one TD pass already, and is likely to see a few targets on Monday night.

In summary, the passing game is a bit under-powered this season, but the tight ends are as talented as they’ve ever been, the slot receiver is stepping up, Doctson showed signs of life against the Raiders, and we’re all waiting for Terrelle Pryor to start looking like a No. 1 receiver.

AP: What is the Redskins plan to stop Kareem Hunt? How have they done against top backs lately?

HH: There’s an old joke that goes back to 1933. The NY Giants were playing the Chicago Bears for the league championship, and a reporter asked the Giants coach how he planned to stop Bronco Nagurski, who was the best player in the league. Coach Steve Owen quipped, “With a shotgun, as he comes out of the locker room.”

I don’t know how the ‘Skins will stop Kareem Hunt unless they employ the Steve Owen method. Likely, it will be a success if they just slow him down.

The Redskins faced Todd Gurley in Week 2; he finished with 88 rushing yards, and 136 total yards from scrimmage.

Last week, Beastmode was held to 18 yards on six carries, but truth be told, he hadn’t looked very dominant in the first two weeks anyway.

As productive as Hunt has been, and as much as Chiefs fans feel that he’s unstoppable, Redskin fans have reasons to believe that their defense may have success against him. The Redskins defense is ranked No. 5 in total yards given up at 272 per game. They are ranked No. 2 against the run (behind the Broncos) at 62.3 yards per game.

It’s early in the season, meaning that these sorts of statistical rankings need to be taken with a grain of salt, but so far the ‘Skins new-look defense is doing the job. This is in no small measure due to improved talent (14 of 27 defensive players had never played a regular season game in burgundy and gold before the start of the season), and better coaching. Greg Manusky is the new defensive coordinator, and as a former Redskin linebacker, he’s a tough dude. The toughest dude in the defense, however, probably goes to the defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula. Forget his miserable foray into head coaching in San Francisco; this guy is a teacher, and he is an angry man. The third piece of the defensive coaching puzzle is the addition of Torrian Gray as the DB coach. He had a decade of success at Virginia Tech, and he has transformed the Redskins DBs from a sloppy disorganized group of individuals into a high-performance unit.

I know that the Redskins defensive philosophy is to always take away the run and force the other team to pass. I also know that they want to do that with seven in the box, not eight. That’s easier said than done.

The Raiders fans laughed last week when I explained this philosophy. They said that Marshawn Lynch would run right through the ‘Skins front seven, forcing them to bring a safety into the box, then Raiders QB Derek Carr would throw over the linebackers off of play action.

You know already; that never happened.

I’m not saying that the Redskin game plan will work, or that Kareem Hunt can be stopped; I am saying that the Redskins will try to win with this defensive philosophy, and the Chiefs will have to force them to change it by gashing the defense in the run game. If anyone is capable of doing that, Kareem Hunt probably is.

The player to watch on the Redskins defense is LB Zach Brown, who came over to Washington following a pro bowl year in Buffalo. Brown is fast – really fast – and he is a sure tackler, leading the team (and tied for second in the league) with 32 tackles. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him keying on Hunt early in the game.

In addition, the Redskins brought in DJ Swearinger from the Cardinals to play safety. After four teams in five years, he seemed to have all sorts of red flags attached, but there’s been nothing but praise from coaches and teammates. In fact, Swearinger was voted defensive captain based on his leadership. So far, on the field he’s been a hard-hitting (but legal) enforcer in both run and pass game. He, Josh Norman and Kendall Fuller (slot corner) have done a good job tackling anyone who has gone outside the hash marks or gotten past the linebackers to the third level of the defense. Not missing tackles has been a big change in the Redskin defense from last year to this year.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Redskins aren’t likely to try to stop Hunt with defensive scheming – they are likely to try to just win mano a mano, which worked against the Raiders.

This defense is playing with fire, attitude and a chip on its shoulder. So far, all that seems to be backed up by enough talent to get the job done.

I think we’re just gonna have to wait and see if they can succeed.

AP: Is the Redskins defensive line that good? They took care of business against Oakland.

HH: So far the defensive line has put up the stats, and they pass the eye test. They’re playing with fire and passion, which is a reflection of improved talent, but probably more a reflection of excellent coaching (see my comments about Tomsula in question No. 3).

In addition to the excellent defensive numbers against the run, the ‘Skins have eight sacks in three weeks (Kansas City has 11). They’ve been getting a good interior push, which made it hard on Jared Goff and Carr, though Carson Wentz shrugged off about four would-have-been sacks and scrambled successfully against us, then gashed us in the passing game as he extended plays.

This defensive lnie is more about good depth, good coaching and an effective rotation, and less about individual stars. The first round draft pick, Jonathan Allen, is off to a good start, but the real workhorse so far has been a fifth round pick from last year’s draft, Matt Ioannidis, who looked a bit disappointing in his rookie season, but seems to have made the leap this year. Ioannidis had fiev pressures vs. the Raiders, and they came against Gabe Jackson, who had never allowed more than four pressures in a game prior to facing off against Ioannidis. Matt also led all Skins front-seven players in pressure rate (25 percent), and his PFF grade of 81.6 on the season is tops on the defensive line.

There’s reason to be optimistic, but I think we’re gonna have to see a couple more games to find out just how good this defensive line really is.

AP: The Chiefs are still looking for a big special teams play this season. Are they getting it this week?

HH: I guess you’re asking if the Redskins are vulnerable to a big play, and I assume you’re talking about breaking a long return.

In 2013 the Redskins brought in a new special teams coordinator, Keith Burns. It was a disaster. The Redskins couldn’t cover a punt or kickoff. Everything went wrong.

In 2014, Gruden sacked Burns and hired the current special teams coordinator, Ben Kotwica. The teams play in ’14 was less disastrous, but still not good. It was average in 2015, and seemed to be a strength of the team last year, though it wasn’t an opportunistic group, like say, the Eagles.

The kicker has a strong leg, and so most of the Chiefs kickoff returns are likely to be touchbacks.

The Redskins punter is a bit better than average, and is pretty good at dropping the ball inside the 20 when he has the opportunity. The punt coverage team has given up a couple of long touchdown returns – most notably against Miami a couple of seasons back to lose a game – but I’d say the coverage is generally pretty good. The Rams punter threw a pass to convert a first down, which completely fooled the Redskins, but a different feint intended to break a big return failed, so I guess the Redskins may be vulnerable to a trick play.

The same good tackling that has typified the defense has shown up on special teams. In 2013 and 2014 I held my breath with every punt, waiting for a big return. Now, I watch with confidence.

The real adventure so far this season has been with our previously sure-handed punt returner (and slot receiver) Jamison Crowder, who has muffed two punts this season – one against the Eagles and one against the Raiders – losing both fumbles. In fact, the Raiders only hint of offense last Sunday night came when they scored a touchdown off of Crowder’s muff.

After the Philly game, Gruden dismissed Crowder’s muff as ‘one of those things’ and assured the reporters present that he won’t drop another one. Gruden took ownership of that (sort of) this week in his press conference following the Sunday night game. He reminded reporters of his assurance that Crowder wouldn’t do it again, and added, “This time he really won’t do it again.”

So, there may be a big play to be made on punt coverage, as Crowder may be overthinking and nervy following his two lost fumbles.

AP: Bonus: Score prediction?

HH: I think that the Redskins and Chiefs have a very comparable amount of talent, but originally I projected the Chiefs to win based on the home field advantage they will have playing at Arrowhead Stadium on MNF.

However, the news that Eric Fisher is having back pain, and did not participate in the final two days of practice changes my view of the game. Already playing the backup center, I don't think the Chiefs can lose the starting right tackle and hold up against the Redskins front seven in both run and pass games.

Once the Chiefs offense has a few three and outs, the throaty roar of the Arrowhead crowd will subside, and the Redskins will take control. 27-17, Redskins win.