We Vikings' fans know a good defensive tackle when we see one. From Alan Page, Gary Larsen, and Doug Sutherland in the Purple People Eaters days, to Keith Millard, Henry Thomas, John Randle, Kevin and Pat Williams, the Purple faithful have been spoiled over the years. Defensive tackles are us. We are a breeding ground for Hall of Fame tackles.
It might be time to add Linval Joseph to that list.
Joseph received NFC Defensive player of the week recognition last week for his ten tackle, three tackle for loss, two quarterback pressure, and half sack week. Todd Gurley was the recipient of six of the tackles, and Joseph's jarring hits certainly slowed the great rookie back down a little. Joseph had six first half tackles, two more on the opening drive of the second half for St. Louis, and then a key six yard tackle for loss on Gurley in overtime, helping force a three and out which led to a game winning field goal for Blair Walsh.
Minnesota heads into another tough game this Sunday versus the Oakland Raiders. Oakland is 4-4 after a tough loss in Pittsburgh 38-35 last week. They had won the two previous games beating the Chargers on the road and the Jets at home; averaging 35 points a game the last three. Derek Carr has nineteen touchdown passes to four interceptions. He has only been sacked eight times all season, the second fewest in the NFL. Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are both in the Top-25 among receivers. The Oakland offense is ranked in the Top-10.
They're pretty good on offense. Minnesota, on the other hand, is not.
Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing, though he did fumble twice last week in an otherwise Herculean effort. He certainly is not why Minnesota is ranked 30th of the 32 NFL teams in offense. No that designation falls on the rest.
Teddy Bridgewater has not put up numbers like his young counterpart Carr. Carr is ranked sixth among NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 104.3. Bridgewater is 22nd among starters with an 83.4 rating. Minnesota's top receiver this year is Stefon Diggs, who has seventeen less receptions than Oakland's 2nd best receiver: Michael Crabtree. The offensive line, tight ends and running backs have surrendered 20 sacks of Teddy at the halfway point. Teddy has had to duck and run more than a few times.
At present rate he may not make it the rest of the way. Last week we learned that even if Teddy is not playing like Tom Brady, he helps us more than he hurts us. And we reason he is quite young. He will improve with experience.
But the story is not all sour this week, whether it is Bridgewater or Sean Hill at the helm. While Oakland is very good at offense, their defense is the opposite. Antonio Brown last week nearly set league record in multi-categories as he ran wild against the Raiders. Presently the Silver and Black are 30th among defenses. They give up nearly 27 points a game, and surrender 3rd down conversions at 44 percent. That is not good. They average yielding over 400 yards a game. That is bad.
Remember those types of defenses?
Minnesota enters with the 7th ranked defense. But they are 2nd in points allowed with 17.5 a game. They are 2nd in stopping third down conversions at 30% allowed. Only the Broncos at home have scored more than 21 points against this defense, and they topped out at 23 points. Those are some impressive numbers.
Without inside-linebackers Kendricks and Audie Cole last week, old veteran Chad Greenway stepped up and added ten tackles. With Sharrif Floyd out, Tom Johnson has been more than adequate. Danielle Hunter has filled in and been effective at defensive end for Everson Griffen. The older guys in the secondary (Munnerlyn and Terrance Newman) have been steady. Xavier Rhodes is becoming a shut-down corner. Andrew Sendejo played solidly at safety last week.
A very good defense. Maybe a dream defense?
This dream story grew when Linval Joseph came to Minnesota via free agency in 2014. He was drafted in the 2nd round out of East Carolina by the New York Giants. Vikings fans may remember we sandwiched Chris Cook (35) and Toby Gerhart (51) around Joseph's 46th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. His 2nd year he was a starter on a Super Bowl winning team.
Mike Zimmer was hired in January of 2014. Six weeks later Joseph was signed.
It is not a coincidence that Minnesota's defense is rapidly improving since Linval's arrival. He has exceptional quickness for a large man. At East Carolina he dropped a lot of weight and became much more than a run-plugging big and strong man. Now he reminds fans of the days when Alan Page would beat snap counts, or when Kevin Williams would strong arm his way into a backfield.
Big and Quick. And Strong. Together.
Furthering the story, Oakland's excellent center Rodney Houston is hurt and unlikely to play. Houston will probably be replaced by Tony Bergstrom, who has one NFL start to his name. Meanwhile, Latavius Murray, the speedy running back, is trying to recover from a previous week's concussion. He would prefer not to be hit real hard. That is the one thing Minnesota seems to be doing the best, hitting people very hard. Legal, but near lethal.
Minnesota and their 30th ranked offense are about a three point underdog for the game vs. Oakland. But the odds makers have underestimated just how much Linval Joseph has changed this defense. And with Kendricks, Barr, maybe even Floyd back to play this Sunday, Minnesota should not even be an underdog. Not as long as Joseph and this Amazing Purple Defense keep putting on a similar show. This defense may remind Oakland fans of their recent home loss vs. the Broncos 16-10.
They may even think we are better.
Prediction: Minnesota 24-16, Joseph repeats as NFC defensive player of the week.