Minnesota Vikings have a star in Linval Joseph, and a top defence crafted in his image
After a two-year wait, the Minnesota Vikings finally have their new stadium and in the NFL, new digs can bring heightened expectations.
And why not? The Vikings have star-in-the-making quarterback Terry Bridgewater under centre and Adrian Petersen, a future Hall Of Fame running back, in the backfield. Minnesota seemed primed for an amazing year, but just four weeks into the regular season and both players are already on the sideline with season-ending injuries.
Despite their offensive pitfalls, the Vikings have somehow started the season with a 3-0 record as the glow coming off the brand-new lights at US Bank Stadium are shining bright on the other side of the ball.
The Minnesota defence has always been a solid unit under coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards. They laid claim to being one of the best in the league last week when they beat the Carolina Panthers and sacked the elusive Cam Newton eight times.
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Their front four have been unstoppable. Minnesota went with a nickel package against Carolina, which meant they lined up with four defensive linemen up front, two linebackers and five defensive backs in an attempt to defend the pass. They ran this scheme on 75 per cent of the defensive snaps against the Panthers and it worked to perfection.
Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter rotated at defensive end and lined up wide on both sides to give themselves room to work. The trio combined for five sacks on Newton.
But while they are rushing the passer off the edges, it is nose tackle Linval Joseph who is stopping the run, clogging up the middle and providing a spark to the Minnesota defence.
“[Joseph] loves playing the run,” Zimmer told Fox Sports. “But if he could ever develop that mentality of when it’s time to pass rush, I think he could go to the next level.”
Three games into this season, the massive 6ft 4in, 329-pound (149kg) Joseph has taken that step. He already has tallied three sacks on the season and has contributed to Minnesota’s 25 in total, which leads the league. He is also fourth on the team with 10 quarterback hurries.
Joseph, 27, who is from the US Virgin Islands, will find himself in familiar company when the undefeated Vikings host the New York Giants (2-1) on Monday night. It was the Giants who drafted him out of East Carolina University in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
“Probably one of the strongest guys in the NFL,” Giants left guard Justin Pugh told The Associated Press. “One of the hardest-working guys. Always in the weight room. Definitely got our work cut out for us.”
When Joseph and Minnesota’s front four provide pressure, it allows the linebackers some freedom to roam. They can run up to the line of scrimmage or drop back in coverage.
Against the Panthers, it was the latter as Minnesota blitzed on just 36 per cent of their plays, which was nowhere near the top-five blitzing teams in Week 3. Those five units – led by the Detroit Lions, who blitzed more than half the time – combined for seven sacks. Minnesota finished with eight.
“I think [Joseph] is obviously a complete monster in the middle,” linebacker Chad Greenway told the AP. “You’ve got to block him with multiple people, and that’s so great for us linebackers.”
Defence wins Super Bowls, according to the old saying, and the Vikings have not been to one since 1976. They are not even a quarter of the way through their schedule so now is not the time to look too far ahead.
But it is this defence that appears to be in full stride in Zimmer’s third season at the helm.
“Three years working together – I think that helps,” Joseph said.
“Just sticking to the repetition, day in and day out, working with each other, playing with each other, just being around each other. If we just keep playing at a high level and everybody stays healthy, the sky’s the limit.”
Cincinnati Bengals 22, Miami Dolphins 7
Placekicker Mike Nugent was a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals for Cincinnati while wide receiver AJ Green caught 10 passes for 173 yards and the Bengals’ only touchdown. The Cincinnati defence dropped Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill five times for a sack.
Sunday’s fixtures (in UAE time)
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars, 5.30pm
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears, 9pm
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots, 9pm
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans, 9pm
Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins, 9pm
Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens, 9pm
Seattle Seahawks at NY Jets, 9pm
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons, 9pm
Denver Broncos at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, midnight
New Orleans Saints at San Diego Chargers, midnight
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals, midnight
Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers, midnight
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4.30am (Monday)
NY Giants at Minnesota Vikings, 4.30am (Tuesday)
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Published: September 30, 2016 04:00 AM