Why Kansas City Chiefs were fans of Thursday Night Football

By Matt Derrick, The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 25, 2017 at 8:35 PM
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid heard the team's personnel department mention the name of running back Kareem Hunt as a target in this year's draft, he immediately recalled working in his office on Thursday nights last fall.

That is when he watched a prolific speedster for the Toledo Rockets on television as he lit up the Mid-American Conference.

"I did more TV scouting, which is kind of dangerous," Reid said, "but on Thursday nights he was on quite a little bit, so you had a chance to see him and see what he was all about just as a player. I remember his name and he was a standout player at Toledo there."

Now the rest of the NFL understands what caught the attention of Chiefs' scouts who believed Hunt could be their running back of the future.

The Chiefs traded a compensatory third-round selection in this year's draft, No. 104 overall, along with fourth- and seventh-round picks to move up 18 spots to take Hunt in the third round.

A season-ending knee injury to Spencer Ware accelerated that timeline, and Hunt has more than exceeded Kansas City's high expectations for him.

The rookie rattled off another big day in the Chiefs' 24-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, picking up 172 yards rushing along with a touchdown. Hunt leads the NFL with 401 rushing yards. The next closest to him is Minnesota rookie Dalvin Cook with 288.

Hunt's hot start puts him rare air among rookie running backs since 1950.

Only Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams, who rushed for 434 yards in his first three games in 2005, posted more yards than Hunt has so far. He also has 538 yards from scrimmage; only Detroit's Billy Sims with 562 posted more yards from scrimmage in the first three games of a career.

Hunt and Sims share the mark for most touchdowns in a rookie's first three games with six each.

Reid says everyone is seeing what the team's personnel department saw.

"You're seeing the core strength, the yards after hit, contact, which is a big thing with backs, and the balance, the ability to catch the football and the fourth-endurance, those were all things that popped up and I remember him," Reid said.

The head coach also credits the team's running backs coach Eric Bieniemy for helping Hunt tap into his God-given physical talents.

"You have a feel of what you're coaching them on and then also at the same time to open up that can of his instincts and allow him to utilize those to the best of his abilities," Reid said. "Eric does a great job with those two things."

Hunt is continuing to apply the lessons he's learning from Bieniemy.

"He's still stopping at red lights, but he's ready to accelerate through the green ways," Reid said. "It's important there."

The Chiefs also seem to be carefully managing Hunt's workload, and the rookie's productivity helps in that regard. He averaged fewer than 16 carries through his first three games. His gaudy 8.5-yard average per carry helps him pile up the yardage. He also has nine catches for 137 receiving yards.

Reid says he's not worried about his rookie back hitting a wall from overuse. The coach has backup running backs he trusts in Charcandrick West and Akeem Hunt.

The Chiefs also occasionally uses Tyreek Hill in the backfield.

"I've seen enough make it through, I've seen some that hit a wall," Reid said about rookie running backs running out of steam as the season wears on. "We'll just see how it rolls here as we go."

The head coach trusts his instincts on managing Hunt's playing time.

"I just go off the feel I have and experience," Reid said. "We'll be all right there."

REPORT CARD VS. CHARGERS

--PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -Hard to find fault with Alex Smith's numbers, going 16-of-21 passing for 155 yards and two touchdowns for a 128.1 quarterback rating. Yet the offensive line surrendered five sacks, and the passing game virtually disappeared for two quarters after the Chiefs raced out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Smith continues a hot start playing at the top of his game but the offensive line continues to allow too much pressure on Smith in the middle of the game.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: A - Kareem Hunt continues wreaking havoc on run defenses and the NFL record book, piling up another 172 yards rushing a touchdown. The offensive line continues providing just enough space for Hunt to find a hole, and the rookie running back is proving he can take it from there.

--PASS DEFENSE: A - The Chargers live and die with quarterback Philip Rivers, and the Chiefs stifled the veteran passer Sunday to 20-of-40 passing for 237 yards and three interceptions. Rivers posted quarterback rating of 37.2, the fourth-worst in his 179 career starts. The Chiefs pass rush and secondary bottled up the Chargers much of the day, allowing only one big play, a 44-yard pass from Rivers to Travis Benjamin.

--RUSH DEFENSE: B - It was a tale of two halves for the Chiefs' run defense, with Melvin Gordon bursting out his early slump with 79 yards rushing in the first half. But once Gordon left because of a knee injury, the Chiefs' defense established its dominance, holding the Chargers to 17 yards rushing in the second half.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus - Akeem Hunt broke a 42-yard kick return, but other than that the Chiefs' return game proved flat. Punter Dustin Colquitt had a nice day, averaging 49.8 yards per punt and a 47.4-yard net with three kicks inside the 20. Kicker Cairo Santos was perfect including a 34-yard field goal after taking a nasty hit to the knee. But a botched fake punt set up the Chargers with a short field, forcing the defense to bail out the special teams.

--COACHING: B - Head coach Andy Reid's team moved to 3-0 thanks to a terrific start and a fantastic finish, but the 30 minutes in between left much to be desired. The Chiefs offense switch to a pure vanilla approach, and only lights-out defense kept the team in control through the second half. The Chiefs at their best this season can put on an offensive show, but Reid's team needs to show it can play its A-game for a full 60 minutes.

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