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Lunchbreak: Hunter, Kendricks Making Cases for NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Danielle Hunter is throwing his hat in the ring for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

On Sunday afternoon, Good Morning Football's Peter Schrager made a case for Hunter, who totaled five tackles (press box stats), 1.0 sack of Philip Rivers, one quarterback hit, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

But Schrager isn't the only one standing on a table for Hunter.

NFL.com's Chris Wesseling covered the Vikings-Chargers game for the weekly "What We Learned" roundtable article and wrote the following:

In a year without an obvious front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter put forth a strong argument with a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery while the contest was still close. The youngest player to reach 50 career sacks since the statistic became official in 1982, Hunter entered the game ranked first among pass rushers in QB hurries, third in sack yardage, fourth in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss.

Wesseling also highlighted Minnesota's overall defensive performance. The Vikings created seven takeaways, the most prominent of which saw Ifeadi Odenigbo recover a fumble and return it 56 yards for a touchdown.

With the Packers winning early in the day and the Rams losing to Dallas, the Vikings couldn't afford a hiccup on the road against a Chargers team coming off one of its most impressive performances of the season. After falling behind for a fleeting moment in the second quarter, [Vikings Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's defense forced a whopping seven turnovers, covering for an offense which lost star running back Dalvin Cook to a [shoulder injury] and benefitted from just 27 yards in Adam Thielen's long-awaited return from a nagging hamstring. The Vikes entered halftime with plenty of momentum after, Danielle Hunter's strip sack was returned for an Ifeadi Odenigbo touchdown with just seven seconds left on the clock. Minnesota's club coasted the rest of the way.

Kendricks called 'sneaky' DPOY candidate

Meanwhile, analytics site Pro Football Focus also is providing an argument for Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks.

Kendricks led the Vikings with seven combined tackles (press box stats) and also forced a fumble during Minnesota's 39-10 road win yesterday.

PFF's Sam Monson wrote the following:

Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter is getting all the ink this year because of the sack total, but I'm not sure he's even the strongest candidate on his own defense. Kendricks has been putting together a career year and has a sneaky strong case for [NFL Defensive Player of the Year]. Kendricks added to his already-absurd pass breakup tally against the Chargers, and though he doesn't have the interceptions, he has been one of the best coverage linebackers in football this season. Kendricks has always been known as a quality coverage player, but this season he has had a significant jump in PFF grade and is putting together some rare numbers.

Vikings defense shuts down Ekeler

Entering Sunday's game, Minnesota knew that Chargers running back duo Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler could be problematic. The latter has proved an especially dangerous threat this season with his ability to make things happen on the ground as well as catch balls out of the backfield.

But the Vikings keyed in on stopping Ekeler, and it proved largely effective. The running back was limited to just 19 yards rushing on seven carries and added 62 yards on five receptions.

Mark Craig of the Star Tribune highlighted the Vikings plan against Ekeler in his observations piece following the game. Craig wrote:

A key to getting the Chargers offense out of whack was making sure someone stayed close enough to Austin Ekeler to give him a good whack before he got going.

"Honestly, we had to know every play where he was trying to hit us," linebacker Eric Kendricks said after the Vikings' 39-10 win in Los Angeles on Sunday. "He's trying to go outside. Always. As soon as we see him heading outside, get to running with him."

In a 45-10 win over the Jaguars last week, Ekeler touched the ball 12 times for 213 yards and broke by three touches Herschel Walker's 1986 record for fewest needed to reach 100 yards rushing and receiving. Sunday, Ekeler had 12 touches for 81 yards. Philip Rivers tried to hit him on a deep wheel route one time, but Kendricks was there because "I knew pre-snap what they were going to do."

Craig also highlighted Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski's "well-orchestrated play-calling," saying the aspect was "overlooked" due to Minnesota's flashy defensive performance.

It wasn't a big yardage day (344), but the Vikings converted [50 percent] of their 14 third downs and didn't give up a sack. Stefanski opened up with some side-to-side misdirection plays and a nice screen pass to fullback C.J. Ham that turned … Joey Bosa's aggressive upfield rush in the Vikings favor. Later in the game, with third-string running back Mike Boone in the game because of injuries, the Vikings faced third-and-1. When Kirk Cousins faked to Boone and turned left, the Chargers were completely fooled, and [Cousins] had an open field in front of him. Up to that point, Cousins had a long run of 11 yards and a total of 49 in just 28 carries this season. He split two defenders for a 14-yard gain.

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