MINNEAPOLIS — During the sweltering days of training camp, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr worked on his pass rushing moves with the defensive ends and lined up on the edge from time to time during contact practices.
But we haven’t seen much of Barr’s pass rushing prowess until Sunday when he lit up the Miami Dolphins for two sacks and a number of pressures in the Vikings’ 41-17 win at US Bank Stadium.
Barr has been successful when given the opportunity to rush the quarterback, creating 15 pressures on just 76 rushes prior to Sunday’s game, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I think it plays to my strengths more so, I think I’m better going forward than backward,” Barr said. “I can do it, but it’s more natural for me and I’m able to effect the game more when I [rush the quarterback]. They put me in a position to do that today, so kudos to the coaches.”
Per PFF data, Barr has rushed the passer at a consistent rate, getting 122 rush snaps in 2016 and 116 last year. He is on pace to come below those numbers unless he comes after the QB at a much higher rate over the last two games. That could happen considering the success on Sunday.
”AB’s is coming along well, they’re starting to utilize him in the pass rush and give offenses different looks,” defensive tackle Tom Johnson said. “We came in with the rush plan to utilize him more and he brings intensity to it, he disgusts well and he was able to attack the weak protection, he was able to read it and capitalize on it. Him being aggressive is one of his strengths.”
Barr’s success was just part of an incredible second half in which the Vikings sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill eight times. In total, Miami went just 2-for-12 on third downs, largely because the Vikings either pressured or sacked him.
“When they try to go max protection and you get in double teams, stuff like that, having the linebacker blitz and come up the middle, it allows the linebackers to come free, that’s what he did today,” defensive end Everson Griffen said.
The two-sack performance was the first multi-sack game of Barr’s career.
Johnson said opposing teams are prepared for the front four rushing with success, but Barr’s extra pressure can counteract some of the different looks.
“The league knows we’re dangerous on third down or in pass situations so most teams try to do boots on third down, a few draws, they are trying to put us out of our element …but when they’re in those type of situations we are able to stand up and make big plays,” Johnson said.
The Vikings have made adjustments on defense to limit the number of times Barr is targeted in the passing game. Following issues in Los Angeles with mismatches, he’s only been targeted 11 times. Miami struggled to find their tight ends and backs in the passing game, completing just five passes to non-receivers.
Minnesota’s next opponent, the Detroit Lions, will give them opportunities for a strong follow-up to Sunday’s sack festival. They sacked Matthew Stafford 10 times in November.