Minnesota sack artist Danielle Hunter presents supreme challenge for Las Vegas
Danielle Hunter simply lives in the backfield. The Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker is a nightmare to gameplan for and he present the Las Vegas Raiders with a supreme challenge this Sunday inside Allegiant Stadium.
Like the Silver & Black’s Maxx Crosby, Hunter creates chaos and has non-stop motor. The 6-foot-5 and 263-pound 29 year old is a mid-round gem (like Crosby) and the and edge rusher is third in the league with 13.5 sacks but ranks first in tackles for loss with 18. Crosby ranks second in stops for loss with 15 and sixth in the league with 11.5 sacks, for context.
Hunter isn’t only a refine quarterback takedown artist, he’s also an adept run defender who can ruin a run game as much as he affects a passing attack, which makes him a difficult task to block and limit. Which makes the edge rusher the foremost area of concern for Las Vegas.
“Yeah, he’s a great player. Like I’ve told you guys before, there’s one every week. And them as a whole, as a football team, they’re a very good football team,” Raiders interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree simply said of Hunter during Las Vegas press conference on Tuesday.
The all-around defender is the tip of the Vikings spear. Fellow outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum is second on the team in sacks with six, while safety Cameron Bynum leads the team with 99 total tackles. He’s followed by linebacker Jordan Hicks (87 total tackles) and safety Josh Metellus (81). Then there’s veteran safety Harrison Smith who has 83 total tackles and three sacks. Cornerback Byron Murphy leads Minnesota with three interceptions with Bynum second with two.
The group as a whole ranks eighth in points allowed (242) and 13th in yards yielded (3,844). The group is very stout against the run allowing the seventh least yards (1,152) and fifth-least touchdowns (seven). Where Minnesota can be got is by an aerial assault as the team allows the 18th most yards (2,692) and 14th most touchdowns (15).
The Vikings also take aim at the ball forcing fumbles as the group has 18 total. Hunter leads the group with four while Metellus, Smith, and cornerback Akayleb Evans have three apiece.
Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell is well-aware of what to expect from a Vikings defense led by defensive coordinator Brian Flores.
“Yeah, obviously they’re going to bring a lot of pressure,” O’Connell began during his media availability on Wednesday. “They do a lot of different things defensively; the defense is going to try to throw a lot of stuff at you. And obviously, I know I’m a rookie, and so they’re going to do those types of things to me and so just try to prepare as best as possible. I think the coaches are doing a great job of preparing us, preparing a great game plan. I’m confident in myself and our guys to go out and execute.”
Unsurprisingly, Hunter leads the Vikings with 17 quarterback hits, Wonnum is second with 12 and Metellus is third with 10.
Las Vegas defense already had to contend with productive Minnesota tight end T.J. Hockenson (team-leading 80 catches for 786 yards, to go along with five touchdowns) and receiver Jordan Addison (54 catches for 686 yards and team-leading seven touchdowns).
But now the team preps for the return of receiver Justin Jefferson who has missed seven games due to a hamstring injury. Before going down, Jefferson had 36 receptions for 571 yards and three touchdowns in five games.
Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham will have his hands full against the Vikings and he had high praise for head coach and offensive play caller Kevin O’Connell.
“But in terms of the good combination, one, the play calling, I think Kevin has done a really good job. You could see in the second half how they are able to adjust,” Graham said. “I don’t know the stats for that per se, but he does a good job of adjusting. So, you got to be ready to combat that on top of dealing with the players. And then whoever they have there at quarterback does a good job of distributing the ball to their skill players. And they are a run first team in terms of that’s the mentality of what I’ve seen throughout Kevin’s career. So, you got to combat that by playing good, sound football and making sure that we tackle, get off of blocks and try to win situational football — third down, red area, two-minute — that’s going to be key.”
Red Zone Success
The Vikings are a stingy defense when opponents enter the 20-yard line. The opposition has entered the red zone 32 times against Minnesota and come away with 16 touchdowns. That 50 percent conversion rate ranks the Vikings defense ninth in the league.
Minnesota’s offense, however, sports the same 50 percent conversion rate (38 red zone trips, 19 touchdowns) but that’s good for 24th in the league.
Las Vegas doesn’t have that kind if disparity in the money zone. The Raiders offense has scored only 16 touchdowns on 34 red zone visits (47.1 percent) while the defense allows 23 touchdowns on 36 trips from opponents (63.9 percent). Both are good for 27th in the league.