Why you should be taking the Vikings seriously

Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith have the Vikings' defense leading a true NFC North contender.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Why you should be taking the Vikings seriously

Mike Zimmer has been talking up Linval Joseph all season long, and we saw a pretty good representation of why against the Rams this week. Joseph was a one-man trail of destruction, and by far the best defensive tackle in the game—one that also featured Aaron Donald.

He notched a sack and a hit as a pass-rusher, but it was his work in the run game that really stood out. From nose tackle, he led the team in tackles (eight combined) and defensive stops (seven, two more than any other Viking), and was a constant force against the Rams’ blockers.

Coming into this game, Todd Gurley was averaging 6.1 yards per carry, 3.1 of which were coming after contact. In this game, he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and 2.2 yards after contact, despite breaking five tackles in his 24 carries. Tre Mason gained just three yards on three carries.

Joseph’s performance now sees him ranked second overall in our interior defender list, with a score of 93.8, behind only J.J. Watt and ahead of Aaron Donald for the year.

The Vikings are trying to talk up his Pro-Bowl candidacy, but performances like this deserve All-Pro talk.

Joseph and Zimmer now have the Vikings at 6-2, level on wins with the Green Bay Packers, who just two weeks ago were undefeated and seemingly wrapping the division up.

The defense is quickly becoming a very impressive unit. Joseph leads a group that, along with players like Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, and Anthony Barr, can terrorize most offensive lines, while on the back end, Harrison Smith has been the second-best safety in the game over the first half of the year. Xavier Rhodes has seen his play drop from a year ago, but did perform yesterday against the Rams, and this unit overall looks formidable.

On offense, the team continues to win, despite Teddy Bridgewater not taking the steps forward we thought he might this season. The offensive line remains an issue, with LG Brandon Fusco, in particular, disappointing, but there are bright spots with Michael Harris now stringing together a succession of impressive games at the other guard spot.

Stefon Diggs is by some distance our best-graded rookie receiver in a class that contains Amari Cooper, and Adrian Peterson remains capable of busting a big play at any time. While the Vikings’ defense looks like a unit ready to take this team wherever it needs to go, the offense seems a unit with room to grow. This is a good thing for a team that finds itself in a tie for the division lead, with their destiny in their own hands.

If the Vikings can work on the areas that are struggling, and if a player like Fusco, who has shown high levels of play in the past, can right his game, then the Vikings are a team to be taken seriously for anybody.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • King VI

    What happened to Harrison Smith? He was best S in the league by far, now he’s only 2nd?

    • enai D

      He’s had a quiet last couple games. I’d be fairly surprised if he didn’t take back that top spot by the end of the year- he’s clearly the best all-around safety in the league at this point.

  • codered5

    linval joseph looks like a beached walrus. Fortunately he plays like one compared to human offensive lineman.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Vikes could very easily be 4-4 and only managed overtime wins against the Rams and Bears who are hardly what you would call elite opponents. I’ll need a lot more convincing before I go anywhere near their bandwagon.

    • TichoB

      The Chicago game did not go into OT. Two weeks in a row the Vikings were tied with game on the line kicked off and the defense made the opponent go 3 and out and punt. Then, the Vikings quickly moved to FG range and won. Thing you may be missing is, as the article plainly points out, few other teams are winning at this point with as much head room for improvement. They’re pretty good right now and they have yet to really put it all together. They got a QB just finished his 16th start and they got several rookies starting.

    • JT

      They have a name for almost losing…..oh yeah winning.

      • crosseyedlemon

        And even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    • Knox

      The rams game wouldn’t have gone to OT if Bridgewater weren’t out in the 4th quarter… just saying. The fact that we pulled that one out with Shaun Hill under center just proves how dominant this defense really is

    • TorreyAnderson

      They were also almost 7-1. That Broncos game was THEIRS…

  • Jared

    Sam, I thought that Bridgewater might take some steps backwards when Peterson returns. Have you seen anything to think that Adrian is halting the progression of Bridgewater?

  • Thinkaboutit

    This is a December team, can’t wait until everything starts to click.