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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings coverage issues can’t be pinned on Anthony Barr

By Matthew Coller

There’s no two ways about it: The Minnesota Vikings’ pass coverage got smoked by Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night. Mike Zimmer said he’s never seen his pass defense struggle so much.

The Vikings’ head coach explained that Goff’s 465-yard, five-touchdown performance was a complete defensive failure, not the play of an individual or position group.

“It was guys getting out of position,” Zimmer said on a conference call Friday. “It was some misdirection plays, similar to what we’ve gotten before. Some of it was corners, some of it was safeties, some of it was linebackers, some of it was nickels, some of it was me.”

Following the game, there were very few explanations from the Vikings’ locker room, which left the door open for linebacker Anthony Barr to take the brunt of the blame. Barr gave up 119 yards passing and three touchdowns into his coverage on Thursday. Naturally he became the face of the team’s struggles against the Rams.

Of course, no one would argue that Barr had an All-Pro night — nobody on the Vikings’ defense did — but the Rams’ big plays against the Vikings were less about Barr and more about Los Angeles’s excellence on offense and about Minnesota’s early-season struggles as a whole.

Take for example the Rams’ 8-yard touchdown pass to running back Todd Gurley in the first quarter. Los Angeles’s star running back blew by Barr for an open touchdown catch, tying the game early and setting the tone for Goff and the Rams’ offense.

Here’s the play:

Former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels explained on Mackey and Judd on 1500ESPN that the route Gurley ran is very unusual for a linebacker to see.

Rosenfels said:

“The Vikings are in cover-4. A lot of times what happens in cover-4 is the backside safety (Harrison Smith) they sort of cheat and they move to the strong side to try to help out because the middle linebacker is all by himself on the strong side. So [the Rams] knew this, that the safety would cheat over to that three-man side in what we call a trips set. When he cheated over, rather than having [Gurley] run a check down or a flat route or something like that, [Sean McVay] actually had him run a seam route.

Even though Anthony Barr has played a lot of linebacker in the league, he has not seen too many seam routes out of the backfield by a running back. It’s a really, really tough play…because you have to cover Gurley all over the field. Usually you think lateral, but in this situation it was a vertical concept and that’s something Will linebackers just aren’t accustomed to.”

While McVay is the driving force behind the Rams’ success, his weapons are just tremendous. Last year, Gurley averaged 12.3 yards per reception — an unheard of average for a running back. His ability to run vertical routes out of the backfield turns him into a wide receiver on a play such as the Rams’ first score.

Barr was also the victim of the Rams’ second touchdown, a 70-yard pass to Cooper Kupp.

Author of Smart Football Chris B. Brown tweeted about the play that allowed Los Angeles’s excellent No. 3 receiver to get matched up with a linebacker.

Here is the “leak” concept that Cooper Kupp scored on last night. A Shanahan/McVay favorite

— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) September 28, 2018

The Vikings getting roasted on the “leak” concept is nothing new. Below are two more examples of opponents attacking Barr with the “leak,” one coming in Week 1 against the 49ers and the other in 2016 versus Washington. The Vikings were spared against San Francisco because tight end George Kittle dropped the pass.

Zimmer was not specific about the reason the “leak” has been successful against the Vikings. It’s possible opponents understand that the Vikings pass off receivers coming over the middle in certain coverages rather than following them. Notice nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who is lined up over Kupp, drops back into a zone rather than tracking the receiver. Also with a single-high safety, Andrew Sendejo has to react quickly to a vertical route on the opposite side of the field.

Whatever the reasoning, it’s hard to pin Kupp’s touchdown on Barr when the concept has consistently worked to create a blatant mismatch against the Vikings’ defense.

On the third touchdown he allowed, No. 1 receiver Robert Woods ended up against him one-on-one. It appeared the Rams got a personnel mismatch when they switched from a two-back set to five receiving options on the line of scrimmage right before the snap.

.@JaredGoff16 with ANOTHER dime!*

*this is not a scheduled tweet.

This one’s for @robertwoods! ?

— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 28, 2018

Beyond getting schemed into mismatches, there’s also the question about Barr as a pass rusher. This season, per PFF, he has rushed just 32 times and created pressure on seven of those rushes and he’s graded solidly against the run.

Over Barr’s career, opponents completed 83.9 percent of passes with a 105.1 rating on throws his way. In 2016, opposing QBs had a 135.5 rating. If the Vikings don’t find ways to prevent the likes of Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Tom Brady from attacking him, the Vikings’ defense will continue to struggle.

As Zimmer said, there’s blame to go around. Putting Barr in the spotlight for the issues over the first four weeks isn’t completely fair.

The post Vikings coverage issues can’t be pinned on Anthony Barr appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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