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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Vikings’ defensive three pack: Barr’s down season a cause for concern

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings appeared headed for a second consecutive NFC North title when they entered their bye week with a 5-0 record.

But all that optimism went up in smoke after the players returned to Winter Park. Minnesota lost its first four games following the off week and won only three times the remainder of the season en route to an 8-8 finish.

That left the Vikings out of the playoffs and searching for answers. General manager Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer and the entire staff will spend the coming weeks evaluating and dissecting what went wrong.

We won’t go quite as in-depth but on Wednesday we looked at three head-scratchers on offense and today we’re going to examine three issues on defense.

Barr wasn’t set high

The Vikings surprised many when they selected Anthony Barr with the ninth-overall pick in the 2014 draft, but it soon became clear the UCLA linebacker was a perfect fit for Zimmer’s scheme.

Barr’s versatility meant opposing offenses had to account for his whereabouts and helped him to provide an immediate impact. He was limited to 12 games as a rookie because of injury, but last season he played in his first Pro Bowl despite missing two games. Pro Football Focus rated him as the No. 2 overall linebacker in the NFL and the top outside linebacker in the 4-3 scheme.

Barr did not miss a game this year, but his play dropped off in dramatic fashion and it’s not clear why. He had four sacks as a rookie, 3.5 in 2015 but saw that number decrease to two this season.

Far too often, Barr was simply invisible. Zimmer was asked about Barr earlier in the season and downplayed the drop off.

But Zimmer’s frustration could not be contained late in the year. “Anthony sometimes has a tendency to coast a little bit,” Zimmer said. “And I think when he cuts it loose a little bit more, I think that’s when you see him making the explosive plays and kind of the wild plays. … It’s not like he’s done terrible. He just hasn’t made the explosive plays that he probably made a year ago.”

Barr has the potential to be one of the best players on the Vikings’ defense and the expectation will be that he will return to form next season. However, there has to be concern about why he took a step back in 2016.

Change coming in the nickel?

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn has become a key member of the Vikings’ defense in his three seasons in Minnesota playing inside in the nickel defense. But the veteran is set to become a free agent this March and there’s some question about whether he will be brought back.

Considering how much time NFL defenses spend in the nickel package, it will be a big deal if Munnerlyn has to be replaced. So who would be the likely candidate to take the job?

One option would be Mackensie Alexander, a second-round pick by the Vikings out of Clemson last spring. Alexander, who is 5-foot-10, 192 pounds, played in 13 games this season before ending the year on injured reserve. He was credited with five tackles but had some rough moments.

In the Vikings’ 22-16 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions on Nov. 6, Alexander played more snaps than usual because of an injury to Munnerlyn.

Alexander was called for holding on Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin late in the second quarter, and on the following play the more-physical Boldin hit Alexander upon his release from the line of scrimmage and then beat the rookie to catch a touchdown.

Zimmer, when asked about Alexander shortly after that game, was candid in his assessment.

“He has some of these things that young guys do: [He] probably thinks he know a little bit more than he knows, a little handsy — as a lot of these college guys are,” Zimmer said. “But he’s a good competitor. He’s very good in and out of his breaks. He has got some toughness. I think he’s going to be a really, really good player.”

If Munnerlyn departs in free agency, the Vikings will need Alexander to at least be a much-improved player come opening day of next season.

Divorce coming?

There were many who predicted Sharrif Floyd would be taken early in the first round of the 2013 draft, so the Vikings were thrilled when the defensive tackle fell to them at No. 23.

But things haven’t worked out as the Vikings had hoped. Floyd’s games played total has dropped from 16 to 14 to 13 as injuries have slowed him more and more. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in October 2015.

The injury issue became a major problem this season as Floyd appeared in the opener at Tennessee and then never got back on the field after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

Zimmer’s frustration with Floyd had reached a boiling point by early November. “We didn’t think it would be this long, to be honest with you,” Zimmer said when asked why Floyd hadn’t been put on injured reserve. “We didn’t think it was going to be, like, six years worth of hurt.”

Weeks later, the Vikings finally did put Floyd on injured reserve.

The Vikings have picked up the $6.757 million fifth-year option on Floyd’s contract for 2017, but it’s guaranteed only in the event of injury. That means the Vikings would have the opportunity to waive Floyd in March if he is healthy.

That might be tough for Spielman to do, given he used a first-round pick on Floyd, but Zimmer doesn’t have much use for guys who can’t stay on the field and Floyd would appear to be one of those guys.

The post Zulgad: Vikings’ defensive three pack: Barr’s down season a cause for concern appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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