Vikings hitting their stride on ‘D’

The Associated Press
Dave Campbell

EAGAN, Minn.–The Minnesota Vikings have hit their familiar stride on defence 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 on Sunday–some obvious evidence of his value.
But the fifth-year outside linebacker, playing on an expiring contract, often has 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 defence, with only 13.5 career sacks is a good place to start.
“I do what I’m asked to do,” Barr said yesterday before practice.
“I think everybody gets caught up in numbers and stats and all that,” he noted. “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.
“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,” Smith noted. “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,” he reasoned.
“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 14.5 sacks now on the list, the Vikings have six players on defence who have 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.