I am going to stand somewhat corrected. In my post-game analysis and my Three Up, Three Down column, I was a bit down on the performance of Danielle Hunter. Upon first viewing, it seemed like he was largely invisible as a pass-rusher through much of the game despite playing a pass-heavy offense. It felt especially apparent because he was more or less called to take on the role usually handled by Everson Griffen, who missed the game because of an injured foot.
But when I went back to the tape, I saw that Hunter was not invisible. His performance was more than I originally identified. That being said, it still was not at the level fans expect from the third-year pass-rusher, given he led the team in sacks a year ago. Essentially, if my original grade for Hunter for the game was a C-minus, I have upgraded him to a C-plus.
I will say this up top: Hunter was pretty good in run support. Considering Hunter’s job is more of that 1’pin your ears back” type of defensive end, there was no noticeable drop-off between Hunter and Griffen in the run game. He set the edge well, played the zone runs effectively and stuck his nose in there for a handful of tackles. There are no issues with his play in this area.
But I read a comment or two over the weekend about how fans expected Hunter to have double-digit sacks by this point in the season. I will be honest, I share a part of that sentiment. Heading into 2017, I felt Hunter was the better pure pass-rusher between him and Griffen, given his length and excellent speed around the edge. But there has been no comparison between the two as Griffen is among the league-leaders in sacks and Hunter is a distant second on Minnesota.
A prevailing explanation (read excuse) for Hunter’s pedestrian sack number is that teams are consistently double-teaming and chipping him, which obviously makes it difficult to get a good run off the edge. So I examined Sunday’s game against Washington to see if that actually was the case.
Of his 48 pass rush snaps, Hunter was double-teamed four times and chipped three times. That is 14.6 percent of pass rushes where help was sent to block Hunter. Which, needless to say is a pretty minute number of times. Washington is not inclined to send a lot of help to left tackle Trent Williams given that he has been and remains one of the league’s best pass-protectors.
So Hunter was one-on-one for the vast majority of the game and, again, he did all right. He recorded four pressures and one sack on 48 pass rush snaps, a pressure rate of 8.3 percent. That number does not put him in the category of the elite but it is a decent enough number considering who he was matched up with for about 40 of those snaps.
The issue is that Hunter does not finish plays as much as one would expect. He gets pressure a decent amount but fans want yards to be lost. In this game, the reason for the pressure without the sack was always because Kirk Cousins had a quick trigger and knew to get the ball out even with the defender in his face. If Hunter was just that one step quicker, he would have had two or three sacks.
Beyond that, there really is not anything to look at and criticize Hunter for in this game. He consistently made Williams work hard to keep him out of the backfield, he exploded through the middle of the line on stunts and his speed was certainly a factor late in the game when the Redskins were passing every down. He has all the tools, just the results are mixed.
We will continue to look at Hunter as the season progresses to see if we can identify any particular flaws in his game. For now, it just looks like an issue of finishing plays after getting initial pressure.