For all the ups and downs of the Vikings season, the biggest benefit for the team as it makes a playoff push was getting their entire defensive unit healthy and contributing.
But on Thursday, nose tackle Linval Joseph was sidelined because of a knee injury and linebacker Eric Kendricks missed a second consecutive practice because of an injured hamstring.
Both, however, seem likely to play in the team’s Week 16 matchup in Detroit on Sunday.
Ever since defensive end Everson Griffen returned to the lineup in Week 8 after seeking treatment for his mental health, the Vikings rank second in the NFL in yards allowed: 1,979, or 283 yards per game.
They trail only the Bills, who have allowed 1,845 yards during that stretch.
Maybe the most impressive display in that stretch has been the defensive line’s ability to reach the quarterback. They’ve recorded 26 sacks, the third-highest mark in the league. Against Detroit in Week 9, they had a franchise-record 10 sacks. Against Miami on Sunday, they recorded nine sacks — eight in the second half.
Joseph said that with Griffen’s return and a healthy line, the Vikings have really been able to apply pressure.
“It brought another element to our game,” Joseph said. “Having more guys, experienced guys, it makes the offense have to plan for more guys. Having him back really helped us get to the quarterback more and play better defense.”
How has the defense improved so much?
“I mean just playing together,” he said. “We simplified things, made things easier for ourselves and we’re doing our job. Stopping the run and getting after the passer. Offense is doing a great job, special teams is doing a great job, and it makes our job easier.”
Does Joseph feel like he’s getting extra attention from opposing offensive linemen?
“I feel like there is holding every play,” he said. “I feel like the blocking is still the same. You just have to do your job and play as a team and when you do that, plays come to you.”
And while the Vikings rank fourth in total defense (314.3 yards allowed per game) compared to first last season (275.9 ypg), he said he still thinks this team is capable of being the NFL’s best defense.
“I feel like we’re playing good defense and I feel like every week we’re trying to get better so we can be in that No. 1 spot again,” he said.
Joseph might not have the sack numbers of some of his teammates — only one this season — but his interior line play has helped the Vikings rank tied for ninth in opponents rushing yards per attempt (4.1).
Joseph signed a five-year, $31.25 million deal with the Vikings in 2014 after four seasons with the Giants. The Vikings realized how valuable Joseph was to the line when they signed him to another extension in 2017 worth $50.4 million over four seasons that will keep him on the roster through 2022.
Joseph said he remains happy he came to Minnesota in free agency four years ago, and the biggest reason he came here was the chance to showcase his talent.
“Opportunity,” he said. “A better opportunity.”
Super Bowl goals
After reaching the NFC Championship Game last season before losing to the Eagles, the Vikings’ goal for this year was reaching the Super Bowl. Even though the Bears already have clinched the NFC North title, Joseph said the goal remains the same.
“We can go as far as we want to go,” he said. “We have to make sure we minimize mistakes and keep winning games. Most of all, try to get to the Super Bowl.”
The Vikings have played four of the five teams that would currently make the NFC playoffs, with two games against the Bears and one game apiece against the Saints, Rams and Seahawks. Joseph said that’s the schedule you want to play, even if it leads to losses during the regular season.
“You want to battle each and every week,” he said. “We have [had] a tough schedule, and now we just have to go out there and win games. If we stay together, we can go a long way.”
Taylor likes new team
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor can’t be happy with the Wolves’ 2-12 road record this season or their disappointing loss to the Pistons on Wednesday when they gave up 40 fourth-quarter points.
But Taylor, in a recent interview, said he still believes this team, which is 12-5 at Target Center and only four games out of being a top-four seed in the Western Conference, is much better off going forward with Robert Covington and Dario Saric than they would have been with disgruntled star Jimmy Butler.
Since the Timberwolves made that deal they have gone 10-8, while the 76ers have gone 12-6.
Yes, Taylor has dealt with his fair share of trying seasons in his 24 years as owner, but he says the start of this year was one of the worst. That’s mainly because the trade demands and media outbursts by Butler seemed so destructive to him, especially coming off the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2003-04.
“It was really a terrible experience,” said Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. “We brought Jimmy here, we thought we were doing not only us a favor but doing Jimmy a favor because he said he wanted out of Chicago. It never occurred to me that he would act like that and be so disruptive and hurtful to our team.
“I don’t see any reason that he should do it. Once he said he wanted to be traded, and I talked to him, [coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau] talked to him numerous times, I said publicly we will go out and try to get you traded to a team that benefits not only you but benefits us. I gave him sort of my word that I was going to get that done. He made it very difficult for his coach and his teammates during that time.”
Did Taylor expect that kind of temperament?
“I was under the assumption he had a different type of personality when he came here, only to find out that wasn’t necessarily all of Jimmy Butler,” he said.
But for all the negatives surrounding Butler’s final days with the Wolves, the subsequent trade of Butler and Justin Patton for Covington, Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick has the team in a better place.
“We can definitely see the [difference in] how our players played before he left and how they’re playing now after he left,” Taylor said.