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NOTEBOOK: Linval Joseph Primed for Another Big Game vs. Rams

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Linval Joseph will reach a personal milestone Sunday as he makes the 100th start of his NFL career.

The Vikings defensive tackle wasn't counting but can be proud of the accomplishment. 

"I didn't even know that," Joseph said. "But yeah, 100 games as a starter is a big thing. Especially in [the NFL] … not for long."

Yet as excited as the former third-round pick is for reaching the century mark in starts, Joseph is almost salivating to play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The last time Joseph faced the Rams, he produced a standout game on the way to being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week — 10 tackles (according to coaches' tally) with 0.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.

The performance in Week 9 of the 2015 season helped the Vikings get a 21-18 overtime win.

"Two years ago, I just know it was a must-win game and that we had to stop the run," Joseph said. "They have a great running back, and our goal then was to not let him gash us like he did every other team.

"I locked in, had a great week of preparation, and we got after him," Joseph said. 

Was it the best he's ever played?

"All-around, that was probably a top-five solid game," Joseph said. "Just a solid game."

Joseph has done plenty since. He made his first Pro Bowl last season and has helped the Vikings be one of the league's stingiest units against the run this year while ranking third at 81.3 yards per game. 

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Joseph is an absolute force in the trenches.

"Power. He's a strong, powerful man," Zimmer said of Joseph's best trait. "Leverage with his, I mean not just strength like benching, but strength through his butt and legs, power, and he's athletic. You saw last week, he made a bunch of plays outside the tackle box." 

Joseph's opponent Sunday will be a familiar face. Center John Sullivan made 109 starts with the Vikings from 2008-2014.

"He found a new home with the Rams, and he's doing really well," Joseph said. "I'm glad to see him doing well, and I'm glad to go against him.

"He's a good guy, he's smart," added Joseph, who praised Sullivan for his heady play. "He's the quarterback snapping the ball."

The Rams have their own dominant defensive tackle in Aaron Donald, who was the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and has made three straight Pro Bowls.

Vikings quarterback Case Keenum played the previous two seasons with the Rams and knows all about Donald, who has 33 career sacks in 56 games.

"There's a guy, Aaron Donald, I don't know if you know him, but I think he's underrated, even as the Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year," Keenum said. "I still think he's underrated because I think he's that good."

Zimmer and Joseph had nothing but praise for the 13th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

"You try and get two hands on him as much as possible," Zimmer said. "You get him on the ground as much as you can – trap him, cut him. 

"He's really quick," Zimmer added. "He gets on the edges of guys and gets them turned, and that's where they're making a lot of hay. 

Added Joseph: "He's very explosive. We always watch highlights and sack tapes, and he always ends up on the sack tapes. It's going to be a great challenge for our offensive line, and I know they're ready."

The Vikings held Rams running back Todd Gurley 89 yards rushing on 24 carries back in 2015.

It was in large part thanks to Joseph, who is expecting another monster performance this time around. 

"Same plan … we've got to stop the run," Joseph said. "Right now they're playing at a high level. They can pass the ball, they can run the ball.

"They're good on defense, they're good on special teams," Joseph added. "I think this is going to be our best challenge. I can't wait. It's a great opportunity."

Catches in bunches 

Minnesota's defense has allowed 213.2 passing yards per game this season, good for 12th-fewest in the NFL.

But the Vikings will have their hands full against a stable of Rams wide receivers that has seen multiple players produce in 2017.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff has spread the ball around, as four different players have at least 372 receiving yards and three have 30-plus catches.

Robert Woods leads Los Angeles with 39 receptions for 622 yards and is tied for the team lead at four touchdowns with Sammy Watkins, who has 21 catches for 372 yards.

Cooper Kupp has 32 catches for 417 yards and three scores, while Gurley has 35 receptions for 406 yards and a trio of touchdown catches. Tight end Tyler Higbee is also a factor with 17 catches for 209 yards and a score.

"The more they have, the better [for them]," Zimmer said when asked about the Rams receiving options. … "[Higbee is pretty good, too," Zimmer said. "It makes it hard. It's a little bit like our offense, you know, the ball gets spread around a lot."

Watkins was with Buffalo in 2014 when he caught a 2-yard touchdown pass with one second left in regulation to give the Bulls a 17-16 win over the Vikings. 

Zimmer hadn't forgotten when Watkins was brought up in conversation Thursday after practice.

"He's a good player," Zimmer said. "You know, he caught the game-winner there at the end.

"He was great in college. He's got great acceleration, great quickness," Zimmer later added. "Catches the ball good. Tough."

Watkins also caught four passes for 39 yards against the Vikings in the preseason opener on Aug. 10 before he was traded to Los Angeles the next day.

Injury reports

For the Vikings: Andrew Sendejo (groin/hamstring) did not participate. Mike Remmers (concussion), Everson Griffen (foot), Anthony Harris (hamstring) and Jeremiah Sirles (knee) were limited. Stephen Weatherly (knee) was a full participant.

For the Rams: Connor Barwin (knee), Sullivan (not injury related), Mark Barron (not injury related), Malcolm Brown (knee), Derek Carrier (hamstring) and Lamarcus Joyner (hip) did not participate. Andrew Whitworth (not injury related), Troy Hill (hamstring) and Matt Longacre (back) were limited. Rodger Saffold (ankle) and Robert Quinn (illness) were full participants Thursday.

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