The transformation of the Washington Redskins defense, starting with the front line, has been the biggest surprise of the 2017 season’s early going. Monday night’s faceoff against the Kansas City’s Chiefs’ third-ranked offense — and its league-leading running back, rookie Kareem Hunt, in particular — will reveal a lot about the unit’s substance.
The Redskin (2-1) will take the field at Arrowhead Stadium boasting the NFL’s second-ranked rushing defense, allowing just 62.3 yards per game. Hunt alone averages more than twice that (133.6).
The 5-foot-11, 216-pound Hunt, a third-round draft pick from Toledo, took over the starting job after Spencer Ware suffered a catastrophic knee injury during the preseason that required season-ending surgery. He was the sixth running back chosen in this year’s NFL draft. After fumbling away his first NFL carry, Hunt shattered expectations, piling up 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ 42-27 upset of the New England Patriots to open the season.
“A star is born,” NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth declared on the broadcast.
Through three games, Hunt leads the NFL in total rushing yards (401) and yards per carry (8.53). According to NFL research, the last back to average more yards per carry through a season’s first three games (with a minimum of 40 carries) was Jim Brown in 1963 (8.58).
Moreover, no NFL player has scored a touchdown of 50 yards or longer in each of his first three games, as Hunt has this season, credited with a 76-yard receiving touchdown in the Chiefs’ season-opening upset of the New England Patriots and rushing touchdowns of 53 and 69 yards respectively, in victories over the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers in Weeks 2 and 3.
What makes Hunt so tough to stop? Here are four views, as the teams prepare for Monday’s game:
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden: “He has great vision, number one. I mentioned the contact balance that he has, and obviously he has got the speed to run through holes.”
Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky: “We’ve got to get a lot of hats around him, make sure that we tackle him. He can break tackles, seen him do that many a times …. Overall, I think [Hunt] is a bigger cat. He can run through blockers where [wide receiver Tyreek Hill] and [wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas] are scooting around them a little bit more, so we’ve got to make sure we have multiple hats there and get there.”
Chiefs Coach Andy Reid, who pairs Hunt’s success with that of wide receiver Tyreek Hill: “They’re good players. Good players make you a good play caller, right? … Kareem is just starting off here, but he has done a nice job. Then Tyreek came in a bit under the microscope and has done a nice job of making sure everything is right on the field and off the field. I am proud of him for that.”
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith: “Spencer Ware went down in the preseason, and we had a big void there. Kareem has, obviously, in these first three weeks, really stepped up. … For a young back to come in and play the way he has and handled all this stuff, not just physically but mentally, certainly says a lot — not only about him as a player, but his preparation as well.”
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