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AP Lab Film Session: Kareem Hunt against the Bengals

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In the last few weeks, the Chiefs running back has been reminding fans how great he is — especially against Cincinnati

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs came into their second consecutive Sunday Night Football game — after scoring 40 points in a loss — and dropped 45 points on the Cincinnati Bengals.

From the first offensive play — a long catch and run on a Slant-RPO — to the final drive with Spencer Ware running out the clock, the Chiefs offense again looked to be clicking on all cylinders. The offense didn’t face much resistance from the Bengals defense — and much of that may be attributed to Kareem Hunt essentially stealing the soul of that unit. He broke multiple tackles, spun out of the grasp of defenders — and once, even took flight — on the very first drive of the game.

It’s not fair to Hunt, but with young stud quarterback Patrick Mahomes, NFL-best tight end Travis Kelce, NFL-most-dangerous Tyreek Hill and major offseason signing Sammy Watkins, he’s almost an afterthought on the Chiefs offense.

Hunt is also sort of on the back burner because this season, the NFL is catching fire. Just look at these offensive statistics through seven weeks:

NFL Offense through Week 7, 2017-2018

Year Points PCmp PAtt PCmp% PYds PTD PRtg RAtt RYds RY/A TD
2017 4638 4561 7254 62.9 47888 320 86.4 5636 23148 4.1 143
2018 5146 4985 7682 64.9 54136 374 91.4 5462 23611 4.3 171
Change 11.0% 9.3% 5.9% 3.2% 13.0% 16.9% 5.8% -3.1% 2.0% 4.9% 19.6%

Every offensive statistic is up in 2018 — in most cases significantly — except for rushing attempts. Whatever the cause — whether it’s rule changes, changes in philosophy, or changes in philosophy because of rule changes — NFL offenses are leaving scorch marks on the field of every NFL stadium.

Rushing may not be sexy in today’s NFL, but it’s still an important part of the game — and Kareem Hunt is one of the best. So let’s head down to the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory, and dive deeply into Hunt’s spirit-breaking performance against the Bengals.

Silly contact balance

Most people understand that Hunt’s contact balance is among his top traits — and it’s about time they also understood that it’s simply the best in the NFL. Hunt leads the league in missed tackles by simply reducing his contact surface with the defender, thereby forcing defenders to just slide off his body.

Aside from this run being one of the greatest What the heck did I just watch!? moments in recent memory, the way Hunt approaches each potential collision sets him up for all of these missed tackles.

Coming around on this spread version of a Bucksweep (or Hand Sweep) the play design is to use the two pulling blockers to create a wall at the second level and isolate Hunt one-on-one with a cornerback. The CB plays it well by squeezing down, but right at the point of contact, Hunt plants his foot in the ground to cut upfield, dips his outside shoulder to absorb contact, and bends his hips back inside, which takes away the cornerback’s ability to attack Hunt’s hips or thighs without going through his shoulder.

Hunt doesn’t get through the hole, but instead forces the CB to make soft contact and just grab on to Hunt’s shoulder. Hunt just laughs that off as he spins out of the contact and turns back upfield.

At this point, the play has already been special because despite the fact that the cornerback made contact with Hunt, it is going for a medium gain. But that’s not where it ends.

Hunt begins to accelerate upfield and again manipulates his hips and torso by bending away from the lunging defensive lineman, allowing him to go untouched into the third level. As he approaches a safety breaking down for the tackle, Hunt quickly identifies it, and then just leaps over the tackle attempt. Then Hunt quickly regains his balance, drops both shoulders to finish the run, and churns his legs for an extra eight yards.

Finishing runs

Hunt has always run with more power than he is credited, because he doesn’t bowl over defenders — such as running backs like Marshawn Lynch do — but since he’s entered the league, Hunt has been one of the best-finishing running backs in the NFL. If Hunt has the time and space to break down the defender — whether in the hole or in space — he’ll gain multiple yards, and it will likely take multiple defenders to get him to the ground.

Here we see another outside run that tasks Hunt with getting to the outside, and then cut upfield — but the Bengals defenders play it relatively well, and stand up their blocks at the line of scrimmage. Jordan Devey — who played a very good game against the Bengals — stops his feet and waits for contact to come to him on his pull, which leads to Hunt running through him as he tried to cut between the blocks.

(Note: Jordan Devey suffered a pectoral muscle injury at some point in this game; on this play, it definitely appears to have had an effect on him).

This allows the first defender there to make contact with Hunt right at the line of scrimmage — after Hunt lost momentum from running through his blocker — and Hunt still ends up with a four and half yard gain that requires a second defender to grab Hunt’s leg, and a third one to help bring him down.

Hunt’s pad level makes all of this possible. Even after being surprised his own blocker being in his way, Hunt is able to drop his shoulders out over his toes and keep his feet moving. He’s up under the defender’s pads — giving him all the leverage — and Hunt is going to keep driving him backwards until help arrives.

In this same general fashion, Hunt is able to finish just about every run where he gets more than a yard of space to break down. He gets his pads low, his shoulders out over his toes, and his legs and butt behind him... all driving him forward.

Quick trigger and acceleration

Hunt isn’t the most athletically gifted running back in the NFL. He doesn’t have great top-end speed. He can’t stop on a dime and then immediately accelerate to 20 miles per hour. Nor can he consistently cover four yards on a single jump-cut while moving at full speed.

But Hunt makes up for his average athleticism with more-than-adequate initial acceleration out of a single cut, and his quick trigger allows him to attack a gap without hesitation. And because of his incredible contact balance, defender’s arms raking at him through a gap or past a block have nearly no effect on his speed.

The Chiefs hammered the outside runs against the Bengals and found a ton of success — largely to Hunt’s ability to run with power, but also with his ability to quickly identify a hole that is opening up, and then get through it.

Hunt may lack top-end speed but his acceleration is more than adequate — and when he sticks his foot in the ground and goes, there is zero hesitation, allowing him to get north and south in a hurry. It’s what makes him so dangerous on outside zone runs, and these sweep and pitch plays used against the Bengals.

Here he reads Fisher’s block and quickly turns up inside, bends around the block to widen the angle by the pursuit linebacker, and picks up 19 yards before heading out of bounds. Nothing about the play looks outstanding, but the quick decision to cut off at Fisher’s inside hip — in conjunction with his initial burst to get going — results in a chunk play that lasted a total of five seconds.

Lateral explosion

Hunt isn’t known to have the most wiggle — a term used to describe a player’s ability to move laterally while maintaining a high speed when running the ball. In fact, for the most part, once Hunt turns upfield and gets going, he does a great job veering. He can still make stark cuts, but they do come with a loss of more speed than some of the more elusive backs in the NFL. He does showcase good lateral movement when he’s coming from a standstill or while just starting to accelerate.

On this play, the Mahomes misreads the defensive end on the read-option, and the defensive end has a free run at Hunt — who is getting the ball on a slow roll to the inside while the DE is squeezing in from the outside.

Hunt is able to make a (slightly backwards) lateral jump-cut back outside around the crashing defensive end. Hunt’s contact balance is on display yet again as he shrugs off the defender’s arms and drops his hips to keep a wide base, and then accelerates upfield again — before the defenders get a chance to react to his bounce outside.

Don’t sleep on the Hunt in the passing game

Hunt has always had good hands, and runs a moderately diverse route tree so that defenses have to account for him at all times. The Chiefs targeted Hunt out in space against the Bengals linebackers and safeties, forcing them to make plays.

Here, Hunt sets quickly to pick up a blitz, but as the linebackers drop into coverage, he hits a big chip on the defensive end on his way to the flat. Then he quickly opens up to Mahomes to receive the ball, and is met by a defender as soon as he turns upfield.

Hunt’s stout base — and the use of his other hand to shed the would-be tackler — allows him to keep his balance going up the sideline. Working through more contact, Hunt continues to use the stiff arm to maintain space and reach for the pylon, scoring his second receiving touchdown of the day.

Not all sunshine and rainbows

Against the Bengals, there were quite a few runs for yard or less, and while Hunt saved them from quite a few more, he was also running into a few of them.

Hunt’s vision allows him to usually be very good at identifying a running lane, and his quick trigger helps him turn those openings into gains. But there are still times that he misses a better gap, or doesn’t let the blocks unfold completely before firing that quick trigger.

On this inside zone play, Hunt quickly identifies a small rushing lane of which he can take advantage as the defensive end gets wide to hold contain. The problem is that it’s an inside zone play, which means the offensive line will be working to the second level. The running back is supposed to press the hole until that occurs, which creates a natural gap.

Hunt sees daylight and takes it for nine yards — not bad at all — but if he presses his aiming point right behind the center and right guard combo block, there is a chance for more. Pressing to the inside of the right tackle allows either the center or right guard to get off their combo and pick up the linebacker, while the unblocked defensive end is now chasing through traffic from behind the play. The only player left to beat would be a crashing safety — but at a harsh angle if Hunt lets the blockers do their jobs.

How good was Kareem Hunt against Cincinnati?

I haven’t had a chance to watch every single game with every single running back in the NFL thus far, but Hunt’s game against the Bengals was the second-best performance I’ve seen by a running back this year.

The level of difficulty on some of Hunt’s big plays in this game was absolutely mind-boggling. And as he’s worked into game shape, somehow Hunt went from being a stout powerhouse to being a stouter, more powerful... uhh... powerhouse.

A game like this should give Chiefs fans hope that come playoff time, if the Chiefs have to lean on the run or the short passing game, Kareem Hunt is more than up to the challenge.