Linval Joseph makes a mountain of a difference in middle of Chargers’ defense
Justin Herbert completed 84% of his pass attempts. Keenan Allen gained 104 yards on 12 receptions. The offensive line permitted no sacks, no quarterback hits and three pressures.
Each an impressive number, yes, only not the single most eye-catching statistic from the Chargers’ 27-24 victory Sunday at Philadelphia.
The really notable fact came from Brandon Staley three days later when the coach said tracking data used by NFL teams clocked Linval Joseph on one play reaching 16 mph.
“He’s a force of nature,” Staley said. “There aren’t many men constructed like him.”
Joseph is 6 feet 4 and 329 pounds and plays a position — nose tackle — that even sounds stagnant and squatty.
He also is in his 12th NFL season and just turned 33. There are only four Chargers older than Joseph. One is the backup quarterback. Another is the long snapper.
Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill has been placed on COVID-19 reserve list, meaning he could miss the home game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Neither of the other two played nearly as many snaps Sunday as Joseph’s 45. That was 79% of the Chargers’ defensive plays. And, yet, the guy teammate Justin Jones called “a mountain” hit 16 mph?
“Just a spectacle,” Jones said. “He’s freakishly strong and freakishly fast.”
Against the Eagles, Joseph finished with nine tackles, his high as a Charger and his most in a game in nearly three years.
This Chargers defense has struggled against the run, ranked last in the league. But Joseph continues to play at a level high enough to draw double teams and — on days such as Sunday — be disruptive.
He is fourth on the team with 11 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The website ranks Joseph sixth overall among Chargers defenders.
“He’s playing like he’s in Year Four or Year Five,” Jones said. “There’s no slack to his game. He gets better each year. He gets better with age.”
Part of the impact Joseph makes daily remains unseen beyond the team’s Costa Mesa facility. Staley said Joseph’s commitment sets a standard for others to follow.
Kenneth Murray Jr. has been on injured reserve because of an ankle injury, but when he comes back -- perhaps Sunday against the Vikings -- the Chargers are going to give him some snaps as an edger rusher.
“He loves to work,” Staley said. “He was on the elliptical grinding miles on Monday, sweating in a sweat jacket and making us all look just so mortal. You can’t, as a coach, ever take it for granted. I know that I don’t.
“I tell the guys all of the time, ‘You’re witnessing something special. As long as you guys play, as long as we coach, you’re going to be pointing out this example of a guy that does it the right way.’ He’s been a real pleasure to coach.”
On Sunday, the Chargers play Minnesota, one of Joseph’s former teams. The Vikings cut him after six seasons in March 2020.
Not quite three weeks later, Joseph signed a two-year deal with the Chargers to occupy the middle of the defensive front and do even more, influencing games and teammates alike.
“I get to see the work he puts in during the week — the extra conditioning, the extra layers in practice …” Jones said. “At that weight, it takes a lot for somebody like that to get that done. He works at it. He sticks to it.”
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Three years ago while with the Vikings, Joseph caught an airborne fumble against Philadelphia and returned it 64 yards for one of the NFL’s most memorable touchdowns of the 2018 season.
Staley said tracking data on that play picked up Joseph topping out at 19 mph. This sort of speed from a player Staley labeled “an anchor” for younger defensive linemen like Jones and Jerry Tillery.
“I’m trying to make sure the guy is engineered for Sundays because he has acquired a lot of mileage over the course of however many years,” Staley said of Joseph. “But he just loves to go out there.
“He’s got a big engine. He’s not one of these big guys that gets tired, and you see them run off and you don’t see them for a while. He runs off and then he comes back on, quickly. … He sets an incredible example for all of us.”
Wide receiver Keenan Allen (knee) and edge rusher Joey Bosa (ankle) both were limited in practice. Allen didn’t practice Wednesday and Bosa was added to the injury report Thursday. ... The players who didn’t practice included cornerbacks Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. (concussion protocol), safety Nasir Adderley (ankle) and running back Justin Jackson. Reserve safety Mark Webb Jr. (knee) also was limited.
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