Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt turns into second-half star

Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, left, had 21 carries for 101 yards against the Washington Redskins on Monday at Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Eagles had shut down Kareem Hunt through the first half of their Week 2 matchup at Arrowhead Stadium, allowing just eight yards on five carries to the Chiefs running back and making his spectacular debut in New England look like a fluke.

 

Then the second half began.

He carried eight times for 73 yards after the break, and two touchdown runs were ultimately the difference as Kansas City held on for a 27-20 victory.

It was the start of what has become a three-game trend for the burgeoning star: As opponents wear out, Hunt gets stronger.

“Honestly, I just want to keep doing what I do,” he said with an audible shrug. “Just keep helping this team win. That comes from the offensive line and everybody just straining to finish.”

The Chiefs haven’t had an easy road to a 4-0 start, beating the Patriots and Chargers on the road and the Eagles and Redskins at home.

Nor has Hunt had an easy road to becoming the NFL’s rushing leader through the first four weeks, a spectacular string of games that landed him a “Sports Illustrated” cover spot and made him the darling of fantasy football aficionados everywhere.

But even when defenses have begun to stack up against the run, the Chiefs have kept feeding Hunt the ball. He’s rewarded them with a trio of dazzling second-half performances that have put games away.

In Los Angeles, when the Chargers held him to 51 yards rushing in the first half, Hunt emerged from the locker room to run for 121 yards.

A good chunk of that came on a 69-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes of the game, when the Chiefs were clinging to a 17-10 lead and were trying to run out the clock.

Back at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night, the Redskins held Hunt to 24 yards on five carries in the first half. He finished with 21 carries for 101 yards, helping Kansas City control the clock in the second half and escape with a 29-20 victory.

Hunt averages 5.7 yards in the first half of games. He averages 8.3 in the second.

“He’s at a spot right now where he’s catching a lot of footballs, he runs with power, mentally he knows where he’s at, he’s able to block for us. So right now he’s doing everything that we’re asking him to do,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “You don’t always find that with every back.

“Sometimes you have some weaknesses. Now, not to say that Kareem doesn’t have weaknesses because we all have weaknesses, but so far what we’ve asked him to do, he’s doing it all pretty well.”

Hunt said he’s always been someone who gets stronger as games wear on. It’s a credit not only to natural ability and intense conditioning work, but his ability to slowly dissect defenses — holes become easier to hit, defenders easier to set up, blitzes easier to diagnose.

“My reads get better,” Hunt explained, “and I just start running a little bit harder.”

It’s not just his running that has made him so valuable, though. It’s his ability to do everything required of a running back in coach Andy Reid’s complex offense at a high level.

Hunt’s a sure-handed threat out of the backfield, catching 13 passes through four games, and his route-running is on par with that of many wide receivers.

He is also adroit at blocking, something that many running backs — especially young ones — are unwilling or unable to do.

“You’re getting a complete back, is what you’re getting. He’s not just a ball carrier,” Reid said. “That’s the thing that’s important to a coach. Can he block and is he willing to block? Is he willing to get in the book and learn all of the pass routes, and how they situate with the run game, and where it can help the team either way? How blocking schemes work so you’re not getting negative yards?

“He does all of that,” Reid said. “The kid’s willing to do the work. You don’t know that until you get him here, exactly what you’re going to have, but he’s done all of that. He’s very good that way.”

Turns out he’s better than good when it comes to the second half.

NOTES: LB Dee Ford (back), RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (sprained knee) and C Mitch Morse (sprained foot) did not practice Thursday.

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