After Sunday’s loss to the Browns, Mike Zimmer stood at the podium and defended his rushing defense. The Vikings had just allowed 184 rushing yards but leaning on his experience, Mike Zimmer showed no concern.
“You guys worry so much about stats and not about how things look and how things are,” Zimmer said. “Now we gave up a 30-yard run...in a two-minute drill and I’m disgusted about that but for the most part, there was a lot of good things that happened today.”
Zimmer’s logic is flawed because if we took out the big plays, Adrian Peterson would have about 12 career rushing yards. But kidding aside, this isn’t what was supposed to happen after the Vikings’ defensive overhaul last spring.
Entering Week 5, the Vikings have allowed 4.8 yards per carry, which is the fourth-highest clip in the NFL. The defense has also allowed several big moments throughout the year, such as a 127-yard effort to Joe Mixon in Week 1 and a 30-yard touchdown to Chris Carson in Week 3.
Those big plays were supposed to disappear with the additions of Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce but both have been used as rotational players through the first month of the season.
That’s put the emphasis on the rest of the defense to make plays and it hasn’t gone well. According to Pro Football Focus, Bashaud Breeland (8) and Eric Kendricks (7) lead their respective positions in missed tackles and three players (Breeland, Patrick Peterson and Everson Griffen) rank in the top 35 in missed tackle percentage this season.
While some personnel changes could be a quick fix, the biggest help could be the return of Anthony Barr.
Barr hasn’t played since Week 2 of last season but his run-stopping ability could be a key factor in turning around the Vikings’ run defense. Over his last three healthy seasons (2017-19), Barr missed a total of 15 missed tackles. In addition, Barr is reliable as a tackler, ranking seventh in the NFL with a 4.9 percent missed tackle rate in 2019.
By comparison, Nick Vigil has missed six tackles in four games and has a 16.7 missed tackle percentage this season, which ranks eighth among qualifying linebackers.
The only question is if Barr’s return can help the defense for a prolonged period of time. While Zimmer sounded confident about Barr’s ability to play, the linebacker gave a murkier answer when talking to reporters on Wednesday.
No matter how long Barr is on the field, it will go a long way in improving the Vikings’ run defense and keeping Zimmer from being slapped in the face with his own playbook like he was last Sunday.