The Vikings defense’s longest playing streak comes to an end Sunday night as linebacker Anthony Barr, who had started 44 consecutive games, has been ruled out because of a hamstring injury. Second-year linebacker Eric Wilson, who already had carved out a niche as a coverage specialist in head coach Mike Zimmer’s nickel packages, is expected to make his first NFL start.
“He’s played well,” Zimmer said. “A lot of these times, these guys that are good special teams players turn into good offensive and defensive players.”
Wilson and linebacker Eric Kendricks face a behemoth task in defending Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who is third among all NFL running backs in receptions and receiving yards. The Saints line up Kamara all over the formations, from out wide to the backfield, making it tough for the Vikings to get the matchups they want.
Kamara had four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings’ NFC Divisional playoff win against the Saints in January.
“It’s a big challenge,” Zimmer said. “They do it with lots of guys. They do it with [Taysom] Hill. Sometimes they’ll have [Mark] Ingram outside. [Kamara] is obviously a special player.”
Griffen to play
Defensive end Everson Griffen is expected to play against the Saints, as league sources indicated to the Star Tribune was the Vikings’ plan all week. Zimmer said Griffen looked “good” in his return to the practice field. He has missed the past five games while away from the team to focus on his mental health.
The defense still will be shorthanded with Barr and safety Andrew Sendejo (groin) ruled out. Nose tackle Linval Joseph (ankle/knee) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (foot) are listed as questionable. The Vikings have been preparing rookie Holton Hill to start for Rhodes, who did not practice all week.
The offense likely will be without left tackle Riley Reiff, who did not practice Friday because of a foot injury that has bothered him since the Sept. 22 loss to Buffalo. He is listed as doubtful. Rashod Hill and Brian O’Neill are expected to start at left and right tackle.
Isidora, you’re up
Second-year guard Danny Isidora will make his second NFL start, this time at left guard filling in for the injured Tom Compton. Isidora played most of the Jets game after Compton sprained his knee in the first quarter. Compton has been ruled out.
“I feel comfortable. I’ve been preparing all week, feeling I’m ready to go,” Isidora said. “As the game goes along, it slows down. The first couple plays I was in there, it was obviously fast getting in there last week. This week, I’ve just been getting a lot more reps.”
‘Some may be ugly’
Running back Latavius Murray rides a wave of momentum into his fifth start of the season Sunday night as Dalvin Cook will miss his fifth game because of a hamstring injury. Murray has averaged 5.7 yards per carry the past two weeks, but the stingy Saints are allowing a league-best 3.1 yards per run.
“We’ve been very patient with the run game and knowing some runs may be ugly,” Murray said. “But we say with it, continue to fight and those big ones will come.”
• Zimmer said no nerves need to be calmed of some young Vikings who could play big roles on “Sunday Night Football.” “Go out and play, baby. This is what we do. This is why we do this. This is why we get paid. That’s what they live for.”
• The Vikings this week worked out tackles Andrew Lauderdale and Adam Bisnowaty before signing Bisnowaty to the practice squad.