Opponents have clamped down on Vikings’ Danielle Hunter

A nightmare for offensive linemen through the opening two months of the season, Vikings star defensive end Danielle Hunter hasn’t had a sack in three games.

What gives?

Since Hunter earned 3 1/2 of the Vikings’ franchise-record 10 in a victory over Detroit on Nov. 4, opponents are effectively scheming Hunter out of the game The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers used frequent double-teams; the New England Patriots used quick passes from Tom Brady.

Once leading the NFL in sacks, Hunter is stuck on 11 1/2, tied with three other players for fourth.

Hunter downplayed his lack of production in the past three weeks.

“It doesn’t matter who gets them,” he said Tuesday during a community service event at the West Side Boys & Girls Club. “We all feed off each other.”

Hunter was held in check during a Nov. 25 victory over Green Bay, but tackle Sheldon Richardson had two sacks, and end Everson Griffen and tackle Tom Johnson added a sack apiece.

“You have to scheme against the whole defensive line,” Hunter said. “Some games they scheme for Everson. Some games they scheme for Linval (Joseph) or Sheldon. It depends on the game plan. If they double team one of us, it’s going to open the door for everyone else across the board.”

Hunter was more than likely never going to keep up the pace that had him potentially joining the elite group of NFL players with 20 or more in a season. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, only 10 players have done it, including former Vikings Jared Allen (22 in 2011) and Chris Doleman (21 in 1989).

“It’s fun,” Hunter said. “Whenever I line up, I know I’ve got my dogs next to me ready to attack. We have the same mentality, and everyone is there to fight for each other.”

Still, the Vikings seem to go as Hunter does; they are 5-2-1 this season when he records a sack, 1-3 when he doesn’t.

While part of those results can be chalked up to the opponent — remember the Vikings still haven’t beaten a team with a winning record — the fact is Hunter has a way of changing the game when he’s firing on all cylinders.

“He’s a cheat code,” Richardson said earlier this season, adding that Hunter could be a “legendary” player when everything is said and done. “If this was (video game) Madden, he’d be (a 99 rating) for everything.”

A third-round draft pick in 2015 out of LSU, Hunter was considered a project player coming out of college. He has steadily improved since and is now regarded as one of the elite pass rushers in the league. The question now is whether Hunter, only 23, joins a class of elite pass-rushers such as Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos or J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans — the only player to record 20 or more sacks in a season twice.

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