How do the Minnesota Vikings contain St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley tomorrow? With news that Eric Kendricks will miss Sunday’s game and Sharrif Floyd will be inactive for a third straight week, the answer’s becomes much less clear. There’s Anthony Barr, but Mike Zimmer’s double A-Gap blitzes are only as effective as the players executing them; without Kendricks, the threat of the “Bruin Brothers” attacking the quarterback is gone. Up front, Tom Johnson has been a revelation while filling in for Floyd, making an impact as a pass rusher and run-stuffer.
Without Linval Joseph clogging the middle of the defense, though, this unit wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it has been this season. The nose tackle, who Zimmer recently called “the best” he’s ever had, is giving the Vikings’ head coach the ability to get aggressive with his play calls. Joseph consistently flashes his strength and deceptive speed on film, and those traits will be critical as the Vikings look to move to 6-2 tomorrow. Joseph is the cog in the middle that makes Zimmer’s scheme work, and his addition to the team last offseason is paying dividends for the Vikings as they push toward the playoffs.
Signed to a five-year, $31.25 million deal before the 2014 season, Joseph was expected to become the next great defensive lineman in Minnesota. Initially, he struggled to pick up Zimmer’s complex defense, but a year under the coach’s tutelage has helped Joseph blossom into an elite disruptor for the Vikings. “I feel way more comfortable this year than I did last year in the system,” said Joseph. “I just want to do whatever it takes to make my team win.”
Through seven games, Joseph has just 19 tackles, but his impact goes much deeper than the stat sheet. A look at the film reveals a player who not only creates havoc in the backfield with explosion and raw strength, but creates opportunities for other defenders. If the Vikings are to stop Gurley on Sunday, Joseph will need to be the focal point of their defensive attack.