Danielle Hunter is second on the Vikings with seven sacks this season, but coaches say he just started to hit his stride last Sunday against the Bengals.
Hunter sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on third down once in the 34-7 win.
His four pressures on Dalton, according to Pro Football Focus, were the second most among NFL defensive ends last weekend, when he played with some welcomed recklessness.
“I thought last week maybe he played his best game,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I’m hoping it continues to go forward here. Like a lot of young guys when they first start becoming a full-time player, they never want to make a mistake.”
Expectations skyrocketed for Hunter, including some favorable preseason odds for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, after he posted 12.5 sacks as a rotational player last season. Hunter admitted more attention from offenses, especially earlier in the season, disrupted his consistency.
“I’ve come a long way,” Hunter said. “I think I’ve been a little bit more worried during the season because I’ve been chipped a lot and it’s messed with me.”
Hunter has four of his seven sacks since the Vikings’ Week 9 bye.
“He just has to do like he did last week and just go,” Zimmer said. “React and use his athletic abilities and not so much rely on his thinking or careful that I might make a mistake here or there. I think that’s been a process for him learning this year. Last week he did that and I hope it continues to move forward that way.”
Barr, Packers both ‘fired up’
Linebacker Anthony Barr returns to Lambeau Field on Saturday night a three-time Pro Bowler and the man responsible for all but ending the season of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Barr said he’s expecting a “hostile environment” but not necessarily anything out of the ordinary for Green Bay.
“I’m sure they’ll all be fired up,” Barr said. “So will we.”
Barr and Packers quarterback Brett Hundley played on the field together for two seasons at UCLA.
“They’re pretty different,” Barr said of the Packers with Hundley. “Brett’s done a great job given the circumstances. He’s made some big plays for them.
“We’re expecting his best. He’s a gamer. He’s a baller. I know from experience, playing with the guy.”
Reiff, Sendejo questionable
Left tackle Riley Reiff is questionable to play Saturday in Green Bay because of the injured ankle that sidelined him against the Bengals. Reiff was limited in practice on Thursday.
“He looked better today,” Zimmer said of Reiff. “I think there’s still a chance.”
Safety Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (ribs) are also questionable to play against the Packers. Both were able to practice in full on Thursday. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (foot) has been ruled out.
The Packers will be without receiver Davante Adams, who remains in the concussion protocol after an illegal blindside hit by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis.
Shurmur hot head coach candidate
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will likely be a top candidate for head coaching vacancies because the Vikings offense ranks in the top 10 in passing offense (246.4 yards/game) and rushing offense (121.3) despite losing its starting quarterback and running back within the first four games.
“I try and stay in the moment,” Shurmur said. “I fortunately have had that opportunity in the past and learned a lot from it. But you just stay in the moment.
“I think what we’ve done here to win the division is very hard to do and we want to take this thing as far as we can, and that’s certainly my focus.”