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PFF Data Shows Linval Joseph's Merits, Frequency of Nickel Defense

Data wasn't required to notice the dominant performance turned in by Linval Joseph against the Rams last November, but it is helpful in measuring his impact throughout the season and against all other interior defenders.

Detailed information on Joseph represented the Vikings in a list of ***50 pieces of data to know** for 2016 by Pro Football Focus Senior Analyst Sam Monson.*

Monson noted that Joseph earned the "sixth-highest overall grade" among NFL interior defenders in 2015 from the analytics site:

Joseph's best work came in run defense, where he had the fourth-highest grade and recorded a run stop greater than once every 10 run plays, one of the highest rates at his position. Even though his total pressure numbers were not that exciting (25), when factoring in having fewer opportunities than others due to Minnesota's defensive-line rotation and injury-forced missed time, he was a top-15 pass-rusher on a per-snap basis.

The piece by Monson included an item on each NFL team and then addressed some league-wide trends.

The first mentioned by Monson should make Vikings nickel back Captain Munnerlyn pretty happy. Munnerlyn has launched a campaign on the importance of the nickel position, saying it should be added to the ballot for Pro Bowls.

Monson wrote that "nickel is the new base" defense.

Last season, on a league-wide basis, teams had five or more defensive backs on the field for 63.4 percent of all defensive snaps. Base defense might be what we all think of when we list starters, but nickel defenders are playing almost two-thirds of all defensive snaps, and any "two-down" player is in fact likely only playing around a third of his team's defensive snaps. The Patriots led the league last season with 83.6 percent of their defensive snaps featuring five or more defensive backs.

He also noted that the increase is likely to counter the frequency (61.4 percent) that teams are in "11 personnel," also known as having three receivers on the field, with one back and one tight end.

Hand in hand with the arms race on defense, teams are running with more wideouts on the field on offense, deploying three or more receivers on almost two-thirds of snaps. The Green Bay Packers last season, despite losing their best receiver [Jordy Nelson] to injury, ran with three or more on the field on 87.5 percent of their snaps.



Barnwell: Vikings can avoid being 2015 Cowboys

For the second time in a week, ESPN's Bill Barnwell addressed a significant injury to a starting quarterback of an NFC team.

Dallas QB Tony Romo suffered a back injury this preseason and is expected to be out for a considerable amount of time. Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee dislocation and torn ACL during Tuesday's practice.

After opening the 2015 season 2-0, Romo suffered a collarbone injury and the 2014 defending NFC East champs lost their next seven games. Romo returned to action and split a pair of starts before being sidelined again. The Cowboys finished 4-12 (3-1 in starts by Romo) a season after going 12-4. Some believe the Vikings season could go "pear-shaped" in the same way this year as Minnesota tries to defend its NFC North title. Barnwell thinks the **Vikings without Teddy can avoid becoming last year’s Cowboys without Tony**:

*My suspicion, though, is that the Vikings aren't this year's version of the Cowboys. It's hard to argue that they will be better without their starting quarterback, and I won't claim they will be. But there are reasons to believe the Vikings could be competitive in 2016 and not suffer the fate of last year's Cowboys. *

*This defense could be really good ... and better than last year. *

More than anything, there's just so much talent on this defense that there are bound to be guys who make plays on a weekly basis. [Everson] Griffen had 10.5 sacks last year, which isn't bad by any means, but his 30 quarterback knockdowns suggest that he's likely to improve the sack total in 2016 if he stays healthy. Reserve interior pass-rusher Tom Johnson might be one of the most underrated players in all of football; for just over $2 million, the Vikings got 20 knockdowns out of Johnson last year, as many as the Dolphins got from Ndamukong Suh.

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