Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt has taken the NFL by storm. Hunt leads the league in rushing yards with 401, 20-plus yard runs with five, 40-plus yard runs with three, and his 16 first downs earned is also first among all runners. He’s averaging an incredible 8.5 yards per carry, more than anyone with eight or more carries, and is tied for first with four rushing touchdowns.
It’s an incredible start to life in the NFL, and he’ll represent the biggest challenge the Redskins’ defense has faced this season when Washington plays at Kansas City Monday night.
The Redskins are second the league in run defense, allowing just 62.3 yards per game on average. On Monday, they’ll face a team that can run a variety of schemes from multiple looks and will muddy reads with different types of misdirection.
One of the Chiefs’ base running plays is the outside zone. They’ll run it from just about any personnel group and any formation. Here, they use two tight ends with the quarterback under center, a fairly basic look. Hunt begins his run to the left behind the offensive line, but the three-technique defensive tackle begins to win his block against the left guard. Hunt could potentially still take his run outside, but the Chiefs do a terrific job on the back side so Hunt cuts back early. Hunt bursts through the hole and is up to the second level before he’s even touched on an eight-yard gain.
The Chiefs’ offensive line has done a great job of opening up lanes for Hunt. They’ve blocked particularly well, but they’re also helped by a coaching staff that uses schemes to freeze defenders and force them to read instead of playing fast.
Before the ball is snapped on this play, the Chiefs motion two players. They start in a strong right formation, with the tight end aligned to the right and the fullback positioned on the strong side, but Alex Smith sends both in motion. The fullback shifts to the outside foot of the left tackle while the tight end motions to the left side before returning to the right. He sets slightly wider than his original position, because Smith sends the fullback in motion once more. All of this motion forces the defense to shift and reevaluate the front and which gap each defender is responsible for.
With both the fullback and tight end on the right side of the line, the Chiefs are ready to snap the ball. They end up running another simple outside zone, but also fake an end around to Tyreek Hill. That fake from Hill manages to hold the defenders on the back side of the run for a fraction of a second, giving Hunt all the time he needs to burst through the line of scrimmage, break a tackle and pick up nearly 10 yards.
Having so many moving parts and misdirections attached to plays, the Chiefs make it hard for defenders to play with speed. But they don’t stop there. So far we’ve only seen the basic outside zone with some window dressing added on to it. But the Chiefs will integrate multiple power concepts to keep defenders guessing where their blocker is coming from.
Against the Chargers, the Chiefs used this power scheme with good results. The right tackle initially takes a step back, inviting the edge defender on to him before quickly working up to a linebacker on the second level. Meanwhile, the left tackle pulls from his spot and kicks out the edge defender vacated by the right tackle.
As the ball is snapped, the edge defender outside the right tackle looks unsure of what to do, given the way the right tackle holds his position. The tackle then works up to his block while the left tackle kicks out the edge defender. Hunt takes the handoff and runs right between the alley created by the two tackles. He does a great job of jumping over the safety, who had beaten his blocker, and breaks another tackle before bursting into the open field for a big gain.
Because of all the misdirection, window dressing and moving parts, the Chiefs’ running game is very difficult to anticipate and read. They’ve even designed some shotgun running plays that go against the grain.
Typically when the quarterback is in the shotgun, the direction of the run will be the opposite side of the running back. That’s exactly what the Chargers anticipate on this play, playing with an over front to the left side of the Chiefs’ offensive line. However, the Chiefs pull their left guard and tight end to the right side.
Hunt takes a couple of steps to his left to secure the handoff but quickly works back to the right to follow his two pulling blockers. The guard reaches the hole first and picks up a linebacker while the tight end wraps around and cuts off the other linebacker. Hunt works patiently through the hole and jumps smoothly over the legs of his blockers as he works into the secondary. From there, it takes multiple Chargers defenders to drag him down and prevent him from turning a 12-yard gain into an even bigger play.
The Chiefs’ various blocking schemes are tough enough to defend and their offensive line does a good job creating lanes. However, there are occasions where the opposing defense has plugged the gaps. On those plays, Hunt has shown he’s capable of making yards all on his own.
Here, the Chiefs run another outside zone to the left, but Patriots linebacker David Harris bursts through the line of scrimmage unaccounted for. Hunt doesn’t panic, and instead calmly cuts back to elude Harris, when he’s met by a defensive tackle. Hunt cuts back even further to avoid him, using his arm to shove the defender away. Hunt runs away from the back side edge defender before the corner works up to attempt the tackle, but not before he picks up seven yards on a play that should have been dead at the line of scrimmage.
Clearly, the Redskins will have their hands full with the Chiefs rushing attack. They’ve fared well so far this season against the run, but they’ve yet to face an attack with as much scheme diversity and misdirection as the Chiefs — or with a running back who is play as well as Hunt is right now. The Redskins’ defense has been able to play fast and aggressive so far, but the Chiefs’ multiplicity may be able to take away that aggressive nature.