Coming off of their first win of the season, the 49ers will now travel to Kansas City and face off against the red-hot Chiefs.
The Chiefs traded away Alex Smith during the offseason, and their gamble has paid off so far. They have a barrage of offensive weapons on the roster, and it all begins with second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes set an NFL record with 10 touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season and has led his offense to the number six spot in total yardage.
Tyreek Hill is scorching defenses this season with 259 receiving yards so far, and is the perfect complement to Mahomes’ strong arm. Tight end Travis Kelce bolsters the air attack with his exceptional route running and knack for coming down with the ball in the end zone. Newcomer Sammy Watkins has also been beating defenses since he came into the league in 2014.
With so many weapons on the roster, it’s easy to forget about the player who I believe is the most important to the success of the Chiefs’ offense: Kareem Hunt.
As a rookie last season, Hunt came out firing on all cylinders and surprised the NFL with his performance. He finished the season as the league’s leading rusher with 1,327 yards and arguably had his best game of his short career against the Patriots in Week 1, finishing with 246 total yards and three scores (one rushing, two receiving).
On one of the longest runs of the night, Hunt displayed great patience by letting the play develop and allowing Kelce (#87) to seal the edge before running upfield for a big gain.
At 216 pounds, Hunt is a big back who can power through defenders at will. He was clocked at 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash, so he's not known to outrun defenders in the open field. However, as that last play shows, he's willing to wait for blocks to develop before bursting upfield. In other words, he doesn’t try to do too much and takes the yardage that is given to him.
It may not sound right, but the more “boring” running backs can be some of the hardest to defend. Playmakers like the Bills’ LeSean McCoy will often get tackled for negative yardage because they try to turn every play into a “home run,” which can put their offenses in bad situations on second and third down.
While Hunt does not usually try to extend plays, he has a great feel for the blocks that will be made in front of him and can use his exceptional agility to create big gains where other running backs would be tackled for a short gain. In this next play, Hunt used his vision and agility to score a touchdown on a well-defended play.
In this play, Hunt takes the handoff to the right and has to take the cutback lane because the gap is covered by three Chargers defenders.
This left safety Tre Boston (#33) with the difficult task of making a one-on-one tackle in open space. Hunt’s cut catches the safety on his heels and he goes untouched for a 61-yard touchdown. You’ll get another angle of the same play in this next clip.
At this level, reads like that have to be made in a split second. If Hunt would've hesitated any longer, Jahleel Addae (#37) and Jatavis Brown (#57) would have had an opportunity to get in the gap and make a tackle.
Even when defenders do get in their assigned gaps, Hunt is known to find any small crease and fall forward for a good gain.
In that last clip, the Chargers initially defended the run as good as anyone could. The D-linemen were taking up space along the line of scrimmage by stacking the offensive line, and the linebackers were covering the open gaps. When Hunt took the handoff, cornerback Casey Hayward (#26), stepped up to prevent Hunt from taking the play outside. Hayward does a great job of breaking down to make a tackle, but Hunt makes him miss with a jump cut and keeps his legs moving on the way to a touchdown.
Hunt isn’t on the same pace to start the season as last year, but he is a threat in all facets of the Chiefs offense. With head coach Andy Reid putting games in the hands of Mahomes, be on the lookout for Hunt to excel in the passing game. In this next play, Hunt beat the Steelers’ Terrell Edmunds (#34) on a simple swing route.
Although this play was a check down, Hunt took advantage of the open space to beat Edmunds outside and score on a reception. Hunt was heavily involved in the passing attack last season. He finished with 53 catches, which ranked him 11th in receptions among running backs, and I see him beating that total this season. This is worrisome for the 49ers.
Not only will the team have to cover three dynamic pass catchers, they will also have to worry about a running back who can beat them on the ground and in the air. However, they were able to stop Dalvin Cook from having a monster game in week one and Hunt has failed to reach the 100-yard mark this season. With the emergence of Fred Warner and the return of Reuben Foster, the 49ers are in good shape to defend the Chiefs’ run game. Now they just have to stop the Chiefs’ aerial attack and win the ball possession battle on offense to come out with a win.
Sources: Getty Images, Chiefs.com, NFL.com, youtube.com, Pro Football Reference