Despite the Minnesota Vikings making their reunion with Anthony Barr official, there is a level of unfamiliarity for the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
The Vikings have a new head coach in Kevin O’Connell, and the defense is onto its third defensive scheme and coordinator in three seasons. Brian Flores has righted the defense dramatically over the past several months.
Since starting the season 0-3, the Vikings rank fourth in points allowed per game, fifth in defensive efficiency, fifth in takeaways and seventh in yards per game, according to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert.
Veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was placed on injured reserve with a right leg injury, played an immense role as the team’s leading tackler and communicator of the defensive play calls.
“It’s a big loss, to put it bluntly,” Flores said in a November 14 news conference.
The Vikings must move forward, riding a five-game winning streak, despite a string of injuries that they hope to persevere through — and Barr can be part of that remedy.
Flores addressed Barr’s potential on defense, praising his intelligence in being the “green dot” signal-caller during the Mike Zimmer era and seeing numerous fits in his defense for the former No. 9 overall pick.
“I know the player well. First time meeting him today but I’ve watched a lot of film on him and the Zimmer defense. Very productive. Experienced. Smart. Those things I’ve heard from multiple people I trust,” Flores said. “His ability to pick up defense, understand things conceptually, so excited to get him but again it’s the first day. Different scheme. Different terminology. We’re excited to have him work with him and how it all shapes out.”
Asked what Barr’s role might be, Flores didn’t count out that Barr could carve out a role as early as Sunday night’s primetime matchup with the Denver Broncos.
“His role: it will be what he makes it over the course of this week,” Flores said.
Vikings Plan to Replace Jordan Hicks by Committee
Flores touted having versatile players on defense when he first was hired as defensive coordinator last winter — and he plans to use that versatility in Hicks’ absence.
Fourth-year linebacker Troy Dye was the immediate fill-in when Hicks left last week’s win over the New Orleans Saints. He will potentially get his first start of the season on Sunday.
Rookie Ivan Pace Jr. is poised to take over relaying the defensive play-caller after having some experience in the role during the preseason.
Flores also noted that safety Josh Metellus can also slot in as a linebacker in some packages.
Brian Asamoah would figure to see some reps at linebacker as well, but he has missed three straight games with an ankle injury and is deemed to have a “50/50” shot at playing on Sunday, according to KSTP’s Darren Wolfson.
Vikings, Broncos on Primetime Suddenly a Bout Between 2 of the NFL’s Hottest Teams
Owners of the two longest winning streaks in the NFL, the Vikings and Broncos’ matchup on Sunday Night Football has become a notable game after both teams stumbled to begin the season.
Minnesota (6-4) has won five straight games after a 1-4 start to the season. The Vikings have won all five games they’ve played without Justin Jefferson and are riding a two-game winning streak with Josh Dobbs replacing Kirk Cousins.
Denver (4-5) started the year with a 1-5 record before stringing together three consecutive wins, which included upsets over the Kansas City Chiefs (24-9; October 29) and Buffalo Bills (24-22; November 13).
Vegas has the Vikings as 2-point underdogs in the game, but Heavy’s projection engine, Quarter4, has Minnesota as 1-point favorites over the Broncos.
Considering the Vikings’ penchant for playing in one-score games, Sunday night could come down to a coin flip given the narrow projected margins.