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Lunchbreak: Hunter, Thielen in Running for Player of the Year Awards

Danielle Hunter and Adam Thielen will spend the weekend resting up and getting ready for a stretch run toward the playoffs.

Both players have had an immense impact on the Vikings through nine games. Hunter ranks first in the NFL with 11.5 sacks, and Thielen is leading the league in receptions and yards.

When both return to action in Week 11 in Chicago, Bill Barnwell of ESPN believes each player could continue his run to potential big-time yearly honor.

Barnwell recently released his midseason awards and had Hunter listed second in the running for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Barnwell wrote:

After 3.5 sacks and four knockdowns on Sunday during Minnesota's twice-annual "What did Matthew Stafford do to the people of Minneapolis?" festival, Hunter now leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks, spotting the 24-year-old a 1.5-sack lead on the competition. And while you could maybe make the case that Hunter benefited from playing alongside Everson Griffen before this season, Griffen missed five games before returning against the Saints in Week 8.

Hunter's performance might not be sustainable — those 11.5 sacks have come on just 15 knockdowns, which would usually generate something closer to seven sacks — but he's a legitimate superstar playing for a defense with three high-profile games against the Bears, Packers and Seahawks after its bye. Hunter also gets the Lions again in Week 16 in what could be a showcase game for the LSU product.

Barnwell had Thielen second for a different award, as he believes the Vikings wide receiver is in the mix to be the league’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Thielen's streak of games with 100 yards and a touchdown came to an end on Sunday, as he racked up just 22 yards and a score on seven targets during the win over the Lions. The most underpaid veteran in the league will have to settle for entering his bye week with the league lead in receptions (78), receiving yards (947), and first downs (51). It seems like there's going to come a point in which Thielen retreats to earth and is suddenly a mortal wideout again, but over the second half of 2017, Thielen racked up 43 catches for 649 yards and three scores, which isn't exactly anything of which to be ashamed.

I think you'll see a slight decline in Thielen's numbers, if only by virtue of volume. Dalvin Cook's return to health and a likely run of victories against an easier schedule in December should push Minnesota toward a heavier dose of its running game, which would come at the expense of its pass-catching corps. Even then, though, Thielen is going to be a very viable OPOY candidate.

Hunter and Thielen were listed behind a pair of Rams players in Barnwell’s awards, as running back Todd Gurley was his choice as the Offensive Player of the Year and Aaron Donald was the Defensive Player of the Year.

But Thielen did earn praise for being involved in Barnwell’s pick for the “Pass of the Year” so far this season.

Barnwell said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins made the best throw in 2018 when he found Thielen for a 22-yard score in the fourth quarter against Green Bay in Week 2.

The touchdown came with 31 seconds left and helped send the Border Battle to overtime. The game eventually ended in a 29-29 tie.

Barnwell wrote:

NFL Next Gen Stats estimates that Cousins has just a 12.4 percent chance of completing this one. It's an inch-perfect throw on a post/wheel concept against man coverage with two deep safeties. Thielen isn't remotely open when the ball is released — he's level with cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) at the 15-yard line — but Cousins leads Thielen to the absolute exact spot on the field where he can catch the pass before being hit by safety Kentrell Brice (29). When you consider that was Cousins' second regular-season game with Thielen, the touch and familiarity it took to make this pass is absolutely unreal. What a throw.

Vikings D-line receives high marks for Sunday’s performance

The Vikings defense was a force to be reckoned with Sunday as they set a franchise-record with 10 sacks on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Minnesota’s defensive line played a big part in that, as the unit recorded nine of the 10 sacks on the day.

As a result, a quartet of linemen received high praise from Pro Football Focus for their performance against Detroit.

Hunter led the way with a career-high 3.5 sacks and scored a defensive touchdown, earning a grade of 91.5 from PFF. Tom Johnson also had a single-game high of 2.5 and graded out at 87.3.

Everson Griffen had 1.5 sacks, marking the 15th time he recorded at least that many in a game, and had a grade of 78.1. Sheldon Richardson had a grade of 77.8 after recording 0.5 sacks.

Stephen Weatherly and Mackensie Alexander also each had a sack for the Vikings to bring the total to 10.

Minnesota leads the NFL with 31 total sacks.

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