Chiefs’ Hill no thrill for Den­ver de­fense

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhabvala

Tyreek Hill stood alone at Kansas City’s 14-yard line when the ball fell in his hands and the on­slaught be­gan. About six min­utes re­mained in the sec­ond quar­ter of the Chiefs’ over­time win in Den­ver lost month, and Kansas City had just scored the first two points of the game, on a safety.

Sec­onds later, it was Hill’s turn to blow open the lead and give the Bron­cos a warn­ing they would ul­ti­mately fail to heed.

On a free kick, Hill cra­dled the ball and darted to the op­po­site side­line, evad­ing three tack­les be­fore meet­ing fel­low wide re­ceiver De’Anthony Thomas 80 yards up­field for a high-five as they trot­ted into the end zone to­gether.

The kid who ran a re­ported 4.29-sec­ond 40-yard dash at his pro-day work­out burned the Bron­cos not once but three times be­fore the night was over. He slipped through the grasp of Von Miller for a 3-yard rush­ing touch­down in the third quar­ter, then caught a 3-yard touch­down pass in the wan­ing sec­onds of reg­u­la­tion to help force over­time.

“He’s a beast right now. Spe­cial teams-wise, we know the prob­lem that he is,” said Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak. “He sin­gle­hand­edly gave us fits last time. … It’s our job to do ev­ery­thing we can to limit those touches.”

The Bron­cos may have beaten them­selves late in that over­time loss, but Hill in­flicted more than his share of dam­age, be­com­ing the first player with a rush­ing touch­down, a re­ceiv­ing touch-

He’s a beast right now. Spe­cial teams-wise, we know the prob­lem that he is. He sin­gle­hand­edly gave us fits last time. … It’s our job to do ev­ery­thing we can to limit those touches.” Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak

down and a kick-re­turn touch­down in the same game since Hall of Famer Gale Say­ers did it in 1965.

Hill put the Bron­cos on no­tice in Week 12, and he un­doubt­edly will be among their big­gest ob­sta­cles to a much needed vic­tory at Ar­row­head Sta­dium on Sun­day night.

“He’s go­ing to field ev­ery­thing. He’s go­ing to re­verse his field,” Ku­biak said. “Play­ing there with the weather, it’s hard to say that you can kick the ball out. It’s hard to con­trol some things that you might be able to con­trol a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently some other times.”

Hill de­scribed his per­for­mance in Den­ver as a “com­ing out party,” and right­fully so: Two weeks later, against Oak­land, he had a 36-yard re­ceiv­ing touch­down and a 78yard punt-re­turn touch­down. Last week­end, against Ten­nessee, he had a 68-yard rush­ing touch­down in the first four min­utes.

The rookie has be­come one of the most ex­cit­ing play­ers in the NFL but also one of its most con­tro­ver­sial. In Au­gust 2015 he pleaded guilty to do­mes­tic abuse by stran­gu­la­tion in an in­ci­dent while at Ok­la­homa State in 2014, when he punched and choked his preg­nant girl­friend. He was given three years pro­ba­tion and went on to fin­ish his col­lege ca­reer at West Alabama.

Kansas City drafted him in the fifth round, to the cha­grin of many fans who learned his back story. But his per­for­mance has paid huge div­i­dends.

Se­lected to the Pro Bowl as a re­turn spe­cial­ist, Hill leads the league with 476 punt-re­turn yards and also leads the Chiefs with 10 touch­downs, in­clud­ing six re­ceiv­ing.

“He’s a young, emerg­ing star, prob­a­bly. We have to be aware of him,” Bron­cos de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips said. “He can run the deep routes, he can run the reg­u­lar routes, but he’s a threat on jail­break screens and all of those things. He’s just like any good punt re­turner. You have to be aware of him in the short game too.” So how do you con­tain Hill? “It’s a chal­lenge, no ques­tion about that,” said Bron­cos spe­cial­teams co­or­di­na­tor Joe DeCamil­lis. “He’s re­ally hot right now. You’re go­ing to have to move the ball around. You can’t give him the same ball all the time, and we just have to do a great job with our lever­age, with our tack­ling and hope­fully take some of those balls away. The best way to do it is not to punt. Hope­fully we won’t have to punt as much and that’d be great.”

Added Ku­biak: “I think you’re ob­vi­ously try­ing to do ev­ery­thing you can to limit his abil­ity to re­turn balls. If the punter mis-hits a ball, there is noth­ing that you can do about it, so you’d bet­ter prac­tice cov­er­ing and do­ing a good job of get­ting him.”

And then maybe the Bron­cos hope — hope the weather at Ar­row­head Sta­dium, with a fore­casted 70 per­cent chance of rain and 25 mph wind, doesn’t give Hill even more of ad­van­tage than he al­ready holds on his home turf.

As Chiefs coach Andy Reid sar­cas­ti­cally made clear, Hill will be used — of­ten and in mul­ti­ple ways.

“We prob­a­bly won’t have any plays in for him this week,” Reid said with a laugh.

The Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill returns a free kick for a touch­down against the Bron­cos this sea­son. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

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