Anthony Barr makes the difference for Minnesota’s defense

Anthony Barr has quietly developed into one of the league's best linebackers, and will lead the the Vikings' defense in their matchup with Seattle.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/John Cordes)

(AP Photo/John Cordes)

Anthony Barr makes the difference for Minnesota’s defense


The Minnesota Vikings have secured themselves the NFC North for the first time since 2009 (where they went to the NFC Championship game) with a win over the Green Bay Packers this week.

That sets up a rematch with the Seattle Seahawks, who blew the Vikings out of the water earlier this season, 38-7.

The Vikings are 3-0 in rematch games this season but more importantly, they will roll into this game with their biggest and most important defensive stars back in the picture. Against Seattle the Vikings were without Linval Joseph to start the game, and both Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr were gone after 11 snaps.

While the season Joseph and Smith have had is relatively well publicized, the performance from Barr has been a little more under the radar. The job the Vikings have done in developing him in the NFL has been remarkable.

Barr was an edge rusher from UCLA when he came out of the draft, and while the Vikings immediately said he was a linebacker for them, most people envisaged a Von Miller or Bruce Irvin type role in which he would play two downs as a conventional 4-3 linebacker, only to kick down and rush from the edge in obvious passing situations in sub-packages. The Vikings haven’t done that with Barr, and though he is an important part of their pass-rush this season, it has come on the blitz from conventional 4-3 linebacker alignment and not from the edge as part of the defensive front.

Barr hasn’t become merely a credible stand-up linebacker — he’s become one of the best in the NFL this season and has done so by performing well in all facets of the game, not merely those to which his pass-rushing experience would lend itself.

Barr has 23 total pressures which is tied for four among 4-3 linebackers, one off being tied for 2nd, but the rate in which Barr has generated pressure has been the best among all players at the position. Bruce Irvin leads all players at his position with 37 total pressures, but he has pass-rushed on 302 snaps thanks to his role in sub-packaged moonlighting as a true edge rusher – a role Barr does not have. Barr has rushed less than a third as often as Irvin, but has 62.2 percent of the pressures.

He has graded well against the run, ranking 11th in that category and notching the 10th-most stops against the run at his position.

Perhaps the most impressive area of Barr’s game though is his work in coverage, which is the most unnatural area for a former pass-rusher to excel. He has a top-three coverage grade among 4-3 linebackers and the fourth-best coverage grade among all off-the-ball linebackers.

Barr has surrendered only one touchdown all season in coverage and has been instrumental in the Vikings getting off the field by making tackles short of the first-down markers.

Mike Zimmer has crafted an impressive defense in Minnesota, and while the improved play of the defensive backfield and defensive line are getting the headline billing, the best coaching job might have been the development of Anthony Barr into one of the league’s best linebackers and the Vikings’ most important players on defense.

The Seahawks have been rolling down the stretch, but they’re going to face a very different Minnesota Vikings defense in the playoffs — and no player makes more of that difference than Barr.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Famfirst

    Having Barr, Smith and hopefully Joseph in the lineup Sunday will make a huge difference. SKOL!

  • Antileftist

    The beat down that the Seahawks gave the Vikes the first time they met was against a D missing 3 of it’s 4 best players after 11 snaps. I still don’t know if Joseph will play at the nose next week or not. Problem is that Seattle’s D is even a little better than the Vike’s D while their passing O is miles ahead of the Vikes. TB looked bad against the Packers and I doubt he’ll look much better against Seattle. I just hope the ref’s don’t blow any calls either way.

    • Alfredo Cota

      Teddy vs Seatte’s D is an awful matchup.

      • Antileftist

        yup. the whole team will have to play out of their minds in order to have a chance of winning. All due respect to Carolina, I still think of the Seahawks as the best team in the NFC and perhaps the NFL.

        • Alfredo Cota

          Definitely: the Seahawks are the team to beat to win it all. Plus, Marshawn Lynch is back.

      • enai D

        Only if we can’t get squat going in the running game. If the OL does their job, Teddy will be fine, and the result will be WAY different.

        • Alfredo Cota

          The Vikes’ O-Line is suspect though…

        • eYeDEF

          And how do you expect Kalil and Clemmings to “do their job” against Bennett and Avril? Both are hot garbage.

          • enai D

            At pass blocking, sure. I’m not worried about Clemmings in the run game (Kalil isn’t great at run blocking, but isn’t terrible either), and if we get the run game going the pass rush isn’t going to be as much of a concern. The Vikings OL is a good run-blocking unit- provided the team doesn’t come into the game buying their own hype and expecting to win just by showing up (which is what they did vs the 49’ers, Seattle, and the 1st Packers game).

          • eYeDEF

            If you’re not worried about Clemmings in the run game you should be. He’s been the Vikings worst run blocker all year and it’s not even close. Fortunately for you the guards and center are depended upon more for their run blocking than tackles and Berger is the anchor of that OL. Regardless, of greater concern to the running game is AP’s lower back injury. Zero degree weather isn’t exactly a panacea for a stiff back. Ellison’s injury doesn’t help.

          • enai D

            Well, no- I’m not worried about Clemmings in the run game because I actually watch the games. If PFF has him graded worse than Kalil (in run blocking) then all the worse for PFF and their weird way of weighting grades (I wouldn’t be surprised if Clemmings has more whiffs than Kalil- or anyone else for that matter- but he’s also far more likely to completely steamroll his guy and open a huge hole than Kalil is). Not going to disagree that Berger is the anchor or that we’re stronger inside, though. And the Ellison injury does hurt. Not especially worried about AP’s back, it doesn’t sound like its significant, and he’s a physical freak anyways- and even if it bothers him, mixing in more McKinnon would be a good idea in any case.

          • eYeDEF

            Clemmings run blocking is miserable. His 38.1 for the year isn’t even half of Kalil’s 78.2. It’s also been consistently miserable throughout the year. PFF watches the games too and records their grade on every snap, and I generally respect their OL and CB grades more than the rest. For me it’s hard to note that large of a discrepancy in his run block grade unless it was truly that miserable. 38.1 is pathetic.

          • enai D

            Like I said, all the worse for PFF and their bizarre way of weighting grades then. If there is a rational explanation for this grade disparity (which isn’t a given- this is PFF we’re talking about), its that they’re docking Clemmings more points for his whiffs then they’re awarding him for the plays where he blows his man 5 yards backwards and helps spring Adrian for a 30 yard run- which is just silly. But that’s the situation- even if Clemmings misses more than Kalil, he’s far more dominant/productive when he does not miss, and he’s been a main reason why AP is averaging more yards/carry off the right side than the left (or between the tackles), and why so many of AP’s big runs this year have been off that right side.

    • Miles

      If Joseph plays, we will shut them down. If not, could be a long day. Joseph has destroyed every run game including todd Gurley, and gets after the qb

  • enai D

    Barr is such an animal, really impressed with how fast he developed. If Kendricks can show even a fraction of the progress Barr did in year 2, this defense is going to be downright scary next year (and lets not forget how young everyone else is- Floyd, Rhodes, Hunter, Smith all very young, and all very good already.. and we didn’t even get to see Trae Waynes this year).

  • RSR1DRIVER

    Sorry, the Vikes may not win, but I don’t believe Seattle is unbeatable. Pittsburgh had almost 500 yards offense and the Rams swept them. I know Teddy is not Big Ben or anywhere near that level right now, other teams with the likes of Cam and Carson will pass all over them. Don’t think for one minute Bruce Ariens was showing his hand in a basically meaningless game.
    If Minnesota can get the run game going, this game will be close. Just surprised the line isn’t at -10 points already considering ever know person is predicting a blowout by Seattle.

    • eYeDEF

      Tell that to Bruce Arians who was PO’d at his team at the half while trailing by 30. He wouldn’t have risked Palmer’s health if it were a “meaningless game”. They were playing for a potential #1 seed. The early season LOB was a different defense that had guys like Cam and Carson passing on them. That was one with a shitty Cary Williams manning the right corner spot and he’s no longer on the team.

  • Kason Edell

    I just don’t think Teddy Bridgewater has what it takes to make a run in the playoffs.. He’ll really struggle against the Seahawks defense.

  • Tim Edell

    Having Joseph back to play the nose is vital for the Vikings. Not only is he having a phenomenal season but it then allows Floyd to play the 3 technique.