Two-time NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys’ vaunted offensive line won’t have Linval Joseph to worry about when the Vikings show up for Sunday’s prime-time game at AT&T Stadium.
Joseph, the massive nose tackle and tone-setter for the Vikings’ eighth-ranked run defense, will miss a game for just the sixth time in 90 games since joining the Vikings via free agency when coach Mike Zimmer was hired in 2014. Listed on the injury report with a knee injury, Joseph had full participation in Wednesday’s practice but sat out Thursday and Friday.
Jaleel Johnson, a fourth-round pick in 2017, will make his second career start. replacing Joseph. He started and had a career-high 30 snaps in a road win vs. the Jets last year.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge as far as being able to fill in for [Joseph],” Johnson said. “But outside of that, there’s no pressure really. I just take what he taught me along with our coaches and I just run with it.”
In doing so, he hopes to stop Elliott from running wild behind an offensive line that Football Outsiders ranks No. 1 in run blocking and No. 4 in pass protection.
“They have a really good running game,” Johnson said. “The challenge really is being able to stop the run. I think we’ll do a good job this week.”
The Vikings drafted Johnson as a three-technique tackle but found him better suited to playing over the center despite a frame that’s not prototypical of a modern NFL nose tackle.
Since joining the Vikings, Johnson has played in 30 of 41 games, including the past 26. He has played 175 snaps this year — 19.4% of the defensive snaps and 222 fewer than Joseph. In 14 snaps at Kansas City last Sunday, Johnson had half a sack — giving him a full sack for his career — and three assisted tackles.
“[Johnson] is much better playing the technique” than he was earlier in his career, Zimmer said. “He used to be a bull in a china shop. Now, he’s playing the technique. He plays hard. He’s been playing good all year.”
Johnson smiled at the “bull in a china shop” comparison, agreeing with his boss’ assessment.
“Just as a young player, you’re not really honed into the details like the older guys are,” Johnson said. “You’re just out there going crazy trying to make a play.
“When you get older, you start honing into those things that make you a great player like the older guys in our D-line room like [Everson Griffen and Joseph] and guys like that. I think that’s what he meant. I hope that’s what he meant.”
Zimmer refused to comment on whether Joseph’s injury is a long-term setback, saying only “he’s out” this week.
Thielen to sit
The Vikings made it official, ruling out receiver Adam Thielen and his balky hamstring. Thielen injured the hamstring Oct. 20 at Detroit, skipped the Oct. 24 game against Washington and then reinjured it while playing just seven snaps at Kansas City.
Zimmer wouldn’t discuss whether the team intends to rest Thielen through the team’s Week 12 bye.
“He’s week to week,” Zimmer said.
Meanwhile, the Vikings also listed safety Andrew Sendejo (groin) as out. The former Vikings starter began the season with the Eagles before being released and then re-signed by the Vikings this week.
Waynes, Weatherly both questionable
Listed as questionable were cornerback Trae Waynes and defensive end Stephen Weatherly.
Wednesday, the Vikings listed Waynes as limited because of an ankle injury. Thursday and Friday, they listed him as not practicing because of ankle/non-injury reasons.
Weatherly has a groin injury.
The Cowboys listed backup tackle Cameron Fleming (calf) as out and receiver Amari Cooper (ankle/knee) as questionable.
The Vikings have the most productive group of defensive ends in the league so far this season. Among defensive end groups, the Vikings rank No. 1 in sacks (18), tackles for loss (22) and quarterback hits (39).
Danielle Hunter has 8½ sacks followed by Griffen (5½), Ifeadi Odenigbo (three) and Weatherly (one).