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Lunchbreak: The Athletic Identifies Vikings Trends Ahead of Visiting Packers

The Vikings won eight of their nine regular-season home games in their first opportunity to host that many contests. On the road, Minnesota has also been successful, but hasn't had as many opportunities, going 4-2 away from U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota will have two more road tests in as many weeks — against NFC North opponents in Green Bay and Chicago — before it returns home to host at least one playoff game.

Alec Lewis of The Athletic broke down the film of Minnesota's 27-24 victory against the Giants and found a few things to keep an eye on ahead of the Vikings matchup this Sunday at Green Bay.

Lewis said over the past few games, outside linebacker Danielle Hunter has increased his productivity within the Vikings pass rush.

Hunter had an up-and-down start to the season, registering just 3.0 sacks in Minnesota's first seven games. Since then, Hunter has been tough to stop, garnering 7.5 sacks in eight games.

Only Eagles pass rusher Haason Reddick has more sacks than Hunter (3.5) since the beginning of Week 15. But Hunter's production has not been limited to sacks.

His 12 total pressures in the past two weeks rank as the fourth most in the NFL in that period behind only Micah Parsons, Nick Bosa and Cameron Hayward. His eight quarterback hits are more than any other pass rusher during that span. And his five quarterback hits in Week 15 against the Colts were the most any NFL pass rusher has tallied in one game this season.

"Danielle continues to show everybody what he's all about," Vikings first-year Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Monday.

Lewis noted that Hunter's recent success has been a result of Minnesota dialing up more pressure defensively.

Before Week 10, the Vikings relied heavily on four-man pressure to aid their coverage on the back end. They averaged only about six snaps per game during that stretch when they brought more than four men on a rush. Since Week 10, they have averaged almost 12 snaps per game when they have rushed more than four men.

"I thought our coaches did a great job of using Danielle and (pass rusher) Za'Darius (Smith) in different ways and alignments that allowed them to get some singles and non-chip rushes," O'Connell said.

Hunter's 62 pressures this season rank ninth in the NFL, and Smith's 78 rank second. No other team has two pass rushers in the top 15. From a sack standpoint, Hunter and Smith rank 13th and 14th in the league, with 10.5 and 10.

Lewis added defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga has also had a significant impact for the Vikings. He wrote:

The 6-foot-4, 338-pound 26-year-old has 21 tackles, 0.5 sacks and nine quarterback pressures. But don't let the numbers fool you. Without his presence — especially with the shoulder injury that has plagued backup James Lynch — the Vikings success rate against the run, currently 21st in the league, wouldn't be nearly as good.

On the other side of the ball, Lewis zeroed in on not just the overall success that Justin Jefferson is having this season, but the wide receiver's ability to elevate that success from a particular area on the field.

This season, Jefferson has run 182 routes from the slot. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has targeted him on 52 of those routes, and Jefferson has hauled in 41 of those attempts for 695 yards.

Distill those numbers and you'll see that Jefferson is averaging 3.82 yards per route run from the slot. That is not only more than [Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper] Kupp averaged in 2021 (3.45 yards per route run), but it is also more than all 280 pass catchers since 2019 who have caught at least 50 passes in a season.

As a result, Jefferson is having a record-setting year, hauling in the most receptions (123) for the most receiving yards (1,756) in a single season in franchise history. He also has two more opportunities to break the NFL record in those categories: Michael Thomas' single-season reception record of 149 catches and Calvin Johnson's yardage mark of 1,964.

CBS Sports releases QB power rankings for Week 17

Cousins and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers squared off against each other to start the season, with Cousins and the Vikings cruising to a 23-7 victory.

The two quarterbacks will see one another again on Sunday in a pivotal game that involves plenty of playoff implications.

Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports assessed all 32 teams' quarterbacks going into Week 17. Benjamin listed Cousins eighth on the list. He wrote:

What a wild year for Cousins, who's been less efficient but more clutch for one of the most resilient (or fortunate) contenders in the NFL. Justin Jefferson does a lot of heavy lifting for their offense, and Cousins has big tests ahead with a road trip to Green Bay and an anticipated postseason run, but he's done a lot to win back belief in Minnesota.

Benjamin ranked Rodgers one spot higher at No. 7.