Arguably the most dominant player on the Vikings defense will miss the game this Sunday due to injury. Linval Joseph, a 6’4″ 330 lb nose tackle has been unable to practice this week with a foot injury, and has been officially ruled out for the game against Seattle. Joseph is the highest rated player on the Vikings by ProFootballFocus.com, and had not missed a game so far this year. Joseph’s injury is one of a few that could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of this crucial game.
Rated as the second best run stuffing nose tackle in the NFL, and fourth best interior lineman overall by PFF, Joseph is a potentially game-changing loss for the Vikings. He played a huge role in slowing down Rams running back Todd Gurley, and is the centerpiece of that defensive line.
Sharrif Floyd slides over to Joseph’s spot and Tom Johnson moves into the starting lineup to play in Floyd’s normal position. Johnson weighs 280 or so, which means the interior line just dropped at least 50 pounds. Minnesota trades the second ranked run NT/DT run defender in the NFL for the 25th (Floyd) and 62nd (Johnson). The Vikings can also call on Kenrick Ellis. He is 330 lbs and was a capable run defender in past seasons for the Jets.
Joseph is not a household name, but his play this year has been on the level of guys like Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins. He is not the pass rusher those guys are, but his run defense is elite. Seattle’s ability to exploit his absence could turn this game. Vegas seems to agree, as the line moved from pick’em to Seattle being favored by 1-1.5 points after the news broke.
Smith and Barr less than 100%
Joseph is not the only wounded Viking. Two of their other great defenders are also on the injury report, and another starting defender is likely going to miss the game. Harrison Smith is a fantastic safety who missed the game last Sunday due to a knee injury. He has practiced this week in limited capacity and is expected to play, but he may not be at his best. Smith is the top-rated safety in the NFL per PFF, so his availability and capability is central to the Vikings defense.
Anthony Barr gives the Vikings an elite defender at every level: Joseph on the defensive line, Barr at linebacker, and Smith at safety. Barr, the second ranked linebacker in the NFL per PFF, is still recovering from a broken hand suffered in early November, but it is a new groin injury that has kept him out of practice this week. He has been quoted as saying he expects to play, but that is at least questionable. Even if he does play, groin injuries have a tendency to be aggravated during gameplay. At best, he could be playing below his full speed.
That means the Vikings will be without their most dominant lineman, and their two other elite defenders will be hampered. It is also looking like their other starting safety, Andrew Sendejo, will miss this game.
Challenge for Vikings
The one thing Minnesota cannot do is let the Seahawks offense keep up their 33 ppg pace over the past three games. Seattle will always favor the run game, and Joseph was a key element to slowing that down for the Vikings.
If Seattle is able to establish a consistent running game, it will have an impact on their ability to convert 3rd downs and red zone opportunities. It should not take many points to win this game. The first team to twenty probably wins. These Vikings injuries make it more likely that team will be the Seahawks, and it opens the door for a more dominant Seattle offensive game. Minnesota is not built to play catch-up, and certainly is not built to score many points.
We saw the Seahawks show for the first time that they can score a lot of points without a strong running game or defense last week. That newfound passing proficiency combined with a more effective running game could overwhelm an undermanned Vikings defense this weekend.