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Big-bodied Linval Joseph stands out in middle of Vikings’ defense

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph (98) reacts after a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

MINNEAPOLIS — Amid a great defensive season for the Minnesota Vikings as a team, nose tackle Linval Joseph doesn’t always snatch headline and attract attention because of the position he plays.

That might be about to change.

Joseph, in the midst of a terrific individual season, had a whale of a game Sunday in the Vikings’ 21-18 overtime win against the Rams. Joseph had 10 tackles from the interior of the defensive line, a career high.

Entering Sunday, Joseph has averaged fewer than three tackles per game this season, which speaks more to his role in Mike Zimmer‘s defense than to his individual season so far. Depending on the game situations, sometimes Joseph is mainly asked to occupy blockers and take up space. However, only Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway had as many tackles (10) as Joseph against the Rams.

“Be hard-pressed to find a better nose [tackle] in the NFL than Linval right now,” linebacker Anthony Barr said after his front-row seat for the viewing party to Joseph’s standout game. “He’s playing lights-out. Pass rush and playing the run great. It’s fun to watch. You’re behind him and you’re kind of watching him do his thing, so it’s amazing to see the way he’s playing so far.”

He made a critical play at the beginning of the overtime period, when the Rams started with the ball. St. Louis tried to hand it to Gurley out of a shotgun formation, and Joseph was there to bring him to the ground for a loss of six yards.

Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson said this week that it would “be a crime” if Joseph didn’t make the Pro Bowl at the end of the year. Even in a season in which the 6-foor-4, 330-pound lineman has been a big reason for Minnesota’s defensive success, Sunday was a standout game for Joseph.

He set the tone in the middle, and the Vikings defense limited standout rookie running back Todd Gurley to 89 rushing yards on 24 carries. The Rams relied on Gurley, end-around plays, the speed of Tavon Austin, and some play-action misdirection Sunday. But seemingly every time the Vikings defense succeeded in driving Gurley back to the middle of the field, Joseph was there to swallow him up.

“I’m just glad my teammates put me in position to make plays,” Joseph said. “Everybody was doing their job, and Gurley was running straight down to me and I just made the play when it’s time to make the play.”

“I had a feeling all week like this was the type of game where you make a lot of plays or you make no plays,” Joseph said. “[In order to] make plays, you had to be in the right position. My team helped me to be in the right position. They stopped the run, they was in their gaps, they made an edge, so he had to run back in the middle. And I was just glad I was able to make plays when it was time for me to make plays.”

Safety Harrison Smith said that’s just more of the same from Joseph, who may not fly under the public radar much longer.

“Guys up front had a great game. Linval, he causes havoc every game. I think more people might have noticed [Sunday] because of the amount of tackles he had, but he always does that,” Smith said.

Joseph politely side-stepped a question about his Pro Bowl aspirations after Sunday’s win, opting instead to focus his answer on the fact his team won a tough game in overtime and that there are still eight games left on the regular-season schedule.

Opposing offensive coordinators have already taken notice of the big run-stuffing No. 98. If he continues his strong play, his teammates and coaches might not have to do much stumping for Joseph to make his first Pro Bowl.


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