There are times when a player goes up against the team that drafted him, developed him, but when it came time to pay him what he was worth for a second contract, they were nowhere to be seen stepping up with the cash.
When that happens, whether it is stated explicitly or not, there is a little extra juice in that player. Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph experienced that with the New York Giants. As a result, on Monday night, through no fault of his own, Joseph and Giants center Weston Richburg are this week’s key matchup.
Joseph made a point last season when the Vikings played the Giants in Week 16 to come back from an injury that had sidelined him for three games. He wasn’t 100 percent – as evidenced by him missing the Week 17 game at Green Bay. He was hurt before the Giants game. He was hurt during the Giants game. His injuries were bad enough that he couldn’t play in Week 17 against the Packers. But, there was no way he was going to miss going up against the Giants and he finished the game with five tackles.
This time around, Joseph is healthy and being as disruptive as ever. Through three games, he has 18 tackles – only linebacker Eric Kendricks and safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo have more – has three sacks and a forced fumble. He has been owning the inside and has been earning the respect of his teammates for his domination.
“Linval Joseph is a full-grown man and he plays like it,” defensive end Brian Robison. “He has been as dominating as anyone I’ve ever played with. He’s blowing up plays from the middle and one guy just can’t stop him. The guy is so strong, he can beat double-teams and is playing as well as he ever has.”
For his part, Joseph maintained this week that he views the Giants as just another game on the schedule and that there isn’t any animosity – doing his best trying to convince himself, if not the assembled media, that there isn’t a chip on his shoulder.
He understood that his exodus from New York was a money move. The Giants took the approach that he wasn’t worth the five years, $31.5 million that the Vikings were willing to spend on him. He remains steadfast in claiming that Monday will just be another night at the office.
“All I’m looking to do is to do my job,” Joseph said. “It doesn’t matter to me who the team is. I played with the Giants, but that was a long time ago. They’re a much different team. I still have friends there, but I have friends on other teams, too. When I’m out there, it’s just going to be doing my job.”
As much as Joseph may be disguising the little extra surge of adrenaline he will be feeling Monday night, his role in the defensive game plan can’t be understated.
The Giants have watched the game tape of the first three Vikings games and have seen offensive linemen rag-dolled by Joseph on a consistent basis. Whether it’s right guard John Jerry or left guard Justin Pugh, one of them is going to be flanking Richburg on just about every play that Joseph in on the field. He is going to be the focus of the offensive game plan – both in his ability to bottle up running plays in the middle and collapsing the pocket on Eli Manning.
Unlike the first three games in which the Vikings have faced mobile quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton), in Manning the Vikings get a virtual statue. He drops straight back in the pocket and when it collapses, so does he.
The expectation is that Robison, Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are going to be bringing the heat from the edge. Manning can use his footwork to slide in the pocket or quick-release passes to attempt to negate them.
But, with an immobile quarterback, collapsing the pocket from the middle will only force Manning into harm’s way and Joseph is just the guy to do that.