Through the first four weeks of the season, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense was doing something it has never done during Mike Zimmer’s tenure in the North: Struggle.
Over the past two weeks they have looked much more like a Zimmer defense, causing two key turnovers against the Philadelphia Eagles en route to a victory and completely stifling young quarterback Josh Rosen last Sunday in a 27-17 win at US Bank Stadium.
“I think we just kind of honed in on what we do well,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “Try to get back to that and simplify things a little bit.”
It would be fair to wonder if the Vikings’ defense overcorrected following a 38-7 loss to the Eagles in last year’s NFC Championship.
“The offseason you have so much time to come up with all these great ideas and I think sometimes it doesn’t go exactly how you drew it up,” Barr said. “Going back to who you are, knowing your identity, doing what you do well has helped us be successful.”
Asked to be specific about which areas the defense had simplified, Barr couldn’t expand.
“Yes but I can’t share that with you,” Barr said smiling.
Over the first four weeks the Vikings were giving up big plays at a remarkable rate, allowing six players of 40 yards or more. Since then neither the Eagles or Cardinals hit on a 40-plus play.
“You just react and go out, you understand where you need to be without really consciously getting there, it’s just habit, and then you find the ball and make plays,” Barr said. “That’s definitely allowed us — not only myself but the whole defense — to go out and play better.”
As for his own play, Barr was outstanding against the Cardinals, forcing a David Johnson fumble and sticking his nose in on a number of other key plays including a goal line pressure of Rosen.
“I feel like I’ve played more carefree, going out understanding what my job is and getting to the ball and trying to make plays and just being myself,” Barr said.
This week the Vikings match up with another rookie quarterback in Sam Darnold. Barr indicated that slowing down their sixth-ranked rushing attack would help the Vikings’ defense focus on disrupting Darnold.
“I think it’s important to stop the run, force him to make plays with the ball in his hands,” Barr said. “He’s very equipped to do so. Great arm, great athlete, smart with the football, he will take his chances but I think they’re at their best when they are running the ball well.”