Maybe Kevin Stefanski was looking eight months into the future and saving Kareem Hunt to blow him up on the Chiefs when the 2021 season opens.
Hunt carried 198 times and caught 38 passes in the 2020 regular season. He had eight carries for 48 yards and two rushing touchdowns in the thrilling 48-37 playoff win over the Steelers on Jan. 10.
Strangely, Hunt didn’t have a single run or catch in the first half of a divisional playoff game with the Chiefs a week after beating the Steelers. The Browns made their way to the visitors’ locker room at Arrowhead Stadium, behind the Chiefs, 19-3, at halftime.
Hunt had six carries for 32 yards and a touchdown plus a catch for two yards in the second half. The Browns closed the gap in the final 30 minutes but lost the game, 22-17.
Of course, when the Browns and Chiefs played for the right to advance to the AFC Championship game, no one knew what the 2021 schedule would look like, but both teams are so loaded with talent that a rematch in the The September 12 opening game was made to order for the NFL and FOX Television. Kick-off at Arrowhead Stadium is at 4:25 p.m.
“We’re playing against the team that knocked us out last year and we’re finding a tough opponent,” Hunt said after practice on September 10. “It will show us where we are early on, so I can’t wait.
Hunt, the former returning star at Willoughby South High School, led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards as a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017. He signed with the Browns as a free agent in February 2019 .
This is the second season Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt have looked to get the most out of Hunt and Nick Chubb – the league’s best pair of running backs. But will Stefanski and Van Pelt rely on a floor game in Kansas City, or do they anticipate Baker Mayfield will take on Patrick Mahomes pass for pass? It’s up to them to know and everyone else to find out.
“It’s (the Chiefs) a very explosive offense,” Van Pelt said. “They have a lot of guns, obviously, and they have a great quarterback. We do not play this offense, however. It is our state of mind that comes into play. We have to take care of our training. We have to take care of the football and we have to finish with training in the end zone. It is preferable.
“If we finish on a kick, it’s not bad, whether it’s a basket or a punt. We just have to protect this football, not turn it over and worry about their attack and just worry about our execution. “
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ headache is cause for concern for the Chiefs offense.
As for protecting the ball, Hunt is as reliable as it gets. He has 694 career runs and 154 career catches – 848 touches and just four fumbles. This equates to one escaping every 212 keys.
And as to whether Hunt is highly motivated to play for his former team, that’s no story. If that was the motivation, Stefanski would have used Hunt in the first half of the playoff game.
“I wouldn’t say personal, but yeah, I really want to be able to take these guys out of Game 1 and Week 1,” Hunt said. “It’s always like that, but it’s another game.
“I want to win every game we play. They’re right on the way and no hard feelings, but I’ll try to win.
Browns >> Goalkeeper Michael Dunn (back) and linebacker Tony Fields (foot) are absent. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (knee), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (illness), kicker Chase McLaughlin (hamstrings) and safety Ronnie Harrison (ankle) are questionable.
Chiefs >> Offensive lineman Austin Blythe (abdomen) is absent. Defensive end Frank Clark (hamstrings) and defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (hip) are questionable.