Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter is earning his contract.
Signed to a five-year, $72 million deal in June, Hunter currently leads the NFL, with 11.5 sacks. He has a sack in every game but one, and he added 3.5 on Sunday, in a 24-9 win over the Lions. Hunter also delivered the dagger with a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
It came on an impromptu decision by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to run an option play, sprinting away from the rush and pitching the ball to running back Kerryon Johnson, who failed to handle it.
“It’s all about scoring on defense,” Hunter told PFT by phone after the win, adding that (unlike some coaches) Vikings defensive players are told to not simply fall on the ball, even though the effort to scoop and score by guys who don’t normally handle the ball could give the offense a chance to keep possession.
“Get the ball and try to score” is the message from coach Mike Zimmer, according to Hunter.
Hunter praised the offense for building a lead and the defensive backs for covering receivers long enough for the Vikings as a team to rack up 10 sacks. He also said that the return of defensive end Everson Griffen has provided a “major” boost to the team, given his status as a leader — and as a guy who “gets us going” from a motivational standpoint.
Despite the temptation to chase a big win with another chance to pick up a W, Hunter said that the bye comes at a good time for the Vikings, giving them a chance to get guys healthy for the stretch run.
And so the Vikings get a week off with a 5-3-1 record, a season after going 13-3. Does Hunter see similarities between last year and this year?
“There are a lot of similarities,” Hunter said. “There are lot of players with chips on their shoulders who are trying to prove themselves.”
Hunter is proving himself, big time. And even though he’s in the current sack lead, he’s not rooting against his peers.
“I know how hard it is to get a sack,” Hunter said. “I want guys to get as many as they can.”
Hunter has gotten enough to be only 11 behind the single-season record, with seven games left to catch Michael Strahan’s single-season record from 2001.