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Margus Hunt needs to heat back up after recent lackluster play

Fourth year defensive end Margus Hunt is still playing better than he did in his first three years, but his exciting production from early in the season has been missing in recent weeks.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Through his first three seasons in the NFL, Margus Hunt recorded seven tackles and 1.5 sacks. Frustrated fans were calling for the Bengals to finally give up on a project player who didn’t appear to be making any real progress after his first three years. It was unfortunate to see, but his production during those years made it hard to argue against their reasoning.

However, over most of the preseason and the first few games of the regular season, Hunt looked like a new player. He was making tackles, putting pressure on the backfield, and blocking or interfering with field goals on special teams. Plays like this defined the new Margus Hunt and what he brought to the team:

Unfortunately, that level of production seems to have dropped off significantly in recent weeks. Since Week 4, Hunt has only compiled two tackles. Perhaps he has fallen off, or perhaps teams have started to figure out whatever it is he did to change his fortunes.

Either way, it doesn’t bode well for his chances to re-up his contract at the end of the season. Due to the slow start to his career, Hunt needed to really impress this year to secure his spot on the team in the future. He was given his chance on the final roster despite some admirable efforts by rookie defensive end Ryan Brown and versatile rookie defensive lineman David Dean. It probably helped Hunt’s case that defensive lineman Marcus Hardison ended up on Injured Reserve, but either way, Hunt got his chance to make one more impression.

Granted, he did play fairly well against the Patriots. He was part of an overall pathetic defensive effort, but you can’t blame the results on Hunt when he was busy making bailing the run defense out with plays like this:

...or this

Hunt was too late to bring Tom Brady down on this play, but he was getting pressure alongside Carlos Dunlap and that’s a very good thing from the Bengals’ coaching staff’s perspective.

However, for the most part, that has pretty much been it for impressive plays from Hunt since Week 4. Sure, he didn’t have enough strength to bring White down before allowing him to gain a couple of yards. But, it was still a heads up play that could have easily resulted in a first down had Hunt not been paying attention.

Hunt only has nine games left during the regular season to get back to his early season form. After the strong start he had to the 2016 season, he can probably afford a mid-season lull that he bounces back from late in the season. But, he has recorded zero stats in three of the Bengals’ four games since Week 4. This week, in particular, he seems confident in his preparation and ability to have a good game on an international stage.

“We’ve been able to get the rotation going early enough in the week, in practices. I’ll be getting in there inside for the runs and everything,” Hunt told Jay Morrison of the Dayton Daily News. “So they’ll be not completely out of whack when something happens and they do pull a run. It’s a very unique and good situation, and whoever they put in there, everybody’s a veteran guy and we know what to do.”

Unfortunately, with Hunt, it’s more of a ‘we’ll believe it when we see it’ kind of thing. Yes, he had a good game in New England. But, the only other tackle he made in the game (and the only other one since Week 3) was far less impressive.

The fact that Hunt makes the tackle is important and should not be forgotten about. But, he also got pushed around quite a bit by Marcus Cannon on this play before he regained leverage and powered ahead to take down LeGarrette Blount after a four yard gain.

Ultimately, Hunt’s lack of production could be all the coaching staff needs to cut ties with the defensive end at the end of the season, if he does not improve. As of right now, he provides a healthy body who is familiar with the team, so they won’t want to replace him in the middle of the season.

But, for Hunt’s own sake, he needs to get back to the impressive play that he displayed against the Jets, Broncos, and Steelers and flashed against the Patriots. If he continues to be completely irrelevant as he has during three of the past four weeks, it is going to be really hard to defend his status with the team.