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Lunchbreak: Danielle Hunter on Historic Pace with Sack Total

When the Vikings tabbed Danielle Hunter with the 88th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the LSU defensive end was the youngest player selected by any team at just 20 years old.

Hunter started just one game as a rookie, but showed plenty of potential with 6.0 sacks as he helped the Vikings secure an NFC North title.

Fast forward to 2019, and Hunter is already in his fifth season in the NFL. But with the full-time starter still only 24 years old — Hunter turns 25 on Oct. 29 — Arif Hasan of The Athletic recently wrote that the defensive end is on a historic pace early in his NFL career.

Hunter recorded a pair of sacks on Sunday and now has 5.0 sacks so far in 2019. The strong start has boosted Hunter’s career sacks total to 45.0 in 67 games while only making 38 starts.

Hasan wrote:

He finished the game with seven pressures, two of them sacks, as well as two stops in the running game. Through [Week 5], he leads the league in total pressures and is second among edge defenders in stops — plays that Pro Football Focus defines as a loss for the offense, like one that stops short of the sticks on third down or one sufficiently close to the line of scrimmage on first down.

More than that, Hunter’s on the march towards history. No player in NFL history has more official sacks before the age of 25 than Hunter, and he still has three games to go before hitting that age mark. His 45 sacks are currently tied [for first before turning 25] with Robert Quinn, and this past weekend he surpassed Derrick Thomas after starting the season tied with Dwight Freeney and Terrell Suggs in the statistic.

Hunter didn’t become a starter until 2017, as he played just 992 of 2,108 total defensive snaps in 2015 and 2016 (47.05 percent). He had 18.5 sacks in his first two seasons.

In 2017 and 2018, plus five games in 2019, Hunter has played 1,939 of 2,377 combined defensive snaps (81.6 percent). He has 26.5 sacks in 37 games since 2017.

Hunter made his first Pro Bowl in 2018 when he set a career-high with 14.5 sacks.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Eagles.

Vikings could rely on play action for success vs. Eagles defense

The Vikings offense had its best performance of the season Sunday, with Minnesota racking up 490 total yards against the Giants, the fifth-highest among NFL teams in Week 5.

Kirk Cousins threw for 300-plus yards, and Dalvin Cook rushed for 100-plus yards in a balanced attack in a 28-10 win.

ESPN Vikings beat writer Courtney Cronin looked at Minnesota’s offensive performance, noting a handful of explosive plays in the first half helped the Vikings get out to a double-digit lead at MetLife Stadium.

Cronin wrote:

The Vikings relied on a few overarching concepts: push the ball downfield in the first half by marrying a passing attack predicated off play-actions and rollouts with Cook’s explosive ability. That led to their highest offensive output (351 total yards) in a half in five years.

Once the Vikings built up a lead, they felt comfortable throwing only four times in the second half, opting for a rushing approach to eat up the clock.

Minnesota’s impressive performance came against a New York defense that ranks 30th overall in total yards allowed per game (409.4) heading into Week 6.

The Giants also rank 23rd against the run (130.0 yards per game) and are 28th in passing defense (279.4 yards per game).

Vikings DE Everson Griffen and TE Kyle Rudolph help show off the team's former Color Rush uniforms, now called Primetime Purple, that the team will wear for the Thursday, Oct. 24 game against the Redskins at U.S. Bank Stadium. Click here to order your Primetime Purple jersey from the Vikings Locker Room store.

The Vikings will get a stiffer test Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, as the Eagles defense is 10th in total yards allowed per game (334.2).

While Philadelphia boasts the NFL’s top rushing defense (63.0 yards allowed per game), the Eagles are 27th in pass defense (271.2 yards per game).

With teams struggling to run against the Eagles, Cronin suggested the Vikings could rely on play-action passes — something Cousins and the offense excelled at against the Giants — to try and find success against Philadelphia.

Cronin wrote:

One area to start is by centering the passing game around play-action. Against Philly’s No. 1 rushing defense, finding ways to set up a consistent play-action game without relying on the run might prove challenging but not impossible.

Cousins had almost as many passing yards off play-action (153, 13.9 yards per attempt) against the Giants as he did in the first four weeks of the season combined (197). Seven of his 11 play-action passes came outside of the pocket Sunday (5-of-7, 110 yards).

Minnesota’s longest play of the day against New York — a 44-yard pass to Adam Thielen — came off a play-action fake. Cousins also hit Thielen for a 9-yard touchdown after faking a handoff.

Thielen had seven catches for 130 yards and two scores Sunday.

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