The Minnesota Vikings have hit their familiar stride on defense during the second half of the season, after some uncharacteristic earlier struggles.
There’s been no better example of this lately than Anthony Barr.
”He’s always been a good player,” coach Mike Zimmer said. ”I think he’s probably taking it to another level right now.”
Barr had two of the team’s nine sacks in the 41-17 victory over Miami last week , some obvious evidence of his value. The fifth-year outside linebacker, playing on an expiring contract, has often made an impact for the Vikings in ways that have stretched beyond basic statistics.
The fact that he was picked for a fourth straight Pro Bowl, joining defensive end Danielle Hunter and safety Harrison Smith from the defense, with only 13+ career sacks is a good place to start.
”I do what I’m asked to do. I think everybody gets caught up in numbers and stats and all that. I may not blow you away, but I think I bring a lot of other things to the table that may go unnoticed from the common eye,” Barr said on Wednesday before practice. ”I’ve got coaches and players coming up to me and telling me, `You’re doing a great job. Great player,’ this and that.”
In the four-down-linemen scheme the Vikings have used under Zimmer, Barr’s position isn’t set up to produce league-leader-type numbers. He has progressed as a pass rusher to the point, though, where opponents are bracing for him to blitz whether or not he storms the backfield or drops back in coverage. Zimmer, who has been critical of Barr at times throughout his career, also complimented his advancements in communication, leadership and recognition on the field.
”When you see him going downhill and working his pass-rush moves on people it’s hard to stop him,” Smith said. ”He’s got the body of a D-end, but he can run about as well as our safeties. So he’s kind of got it all.”
Barr missed three games with a hamstring injury. He said the absence helped him return stronger physically and mentally.
”You get time to look yourself in the mirror and figure out things you maybe could do better and different ways you can help,” Barr said. ”Obviously, I feel we’ve been playing to my strengths the last few weeks.”
Smith also became a four-time Pro Bowl selection. With Hunter, who’s tied for second in the NFL with 14+ sacks now on the list, the Vikings have six players on defense who’ve been a Pro Bowl pick. They’re leading the league again on third downs with a 28.6 percent conversation rate allowed and are first with 47 sacks .
”There tends to be always streaks here and there. I remember earlier this year everybody was kind of down on us after a couple of games,” Smith said. ”This league changes fast, and you’ve just got to be constantly working.”
One of those past Pro Bowl selections was defensive end Everson Griffen, who missed five games while receiving mental health treatment and has not been quite the same disruptive force upon his return that he’s been before. Griffen was announced on Wednesday as the team’s Ed Block Courage Award winner as the player best exemplifying commitment to sportsmanship and courage.
”It’s been a rough year for me, but I’m still here,” Griffen said. ”I’m still standing, and that’s the main thing. I’m here to fight. I’m a fighter.”
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