Among the players milling around the Minnesota Vikings locker room Thursday, one of them had a different look.
Linebacker Anthony Barr wasn’t wearing the soft cast on his hand protecting his left hand and wrist that were injured in the game against St. Louis. He said the hand is getting better every day and he’s trying to get back to his normal routine.
The hardest part has been convincing himself to fully use his ailing hand and not make it a detriment to his aggressiveness.
“It’s even subconscious sometimes,” Barr said. “I think about what I’m doing. It’s been a focus to use it this week in practice and consequently in the game.”
Barr has become one of the young leaders on the Vikings defense and has been a key part of the Vikings defensive scheme, which focuses a lot on giving fake looks and disguising their intentions on plays. Facing a wily veteran like Aaron Rodgers this week, Barr expects the Vikings to try to show false looks that will throw Rodgers off and give the pass rush that little extra time it needs to collapse the pocket and force the ball out of his hands.
The Vikings’ eight-man fronts are something that has been a source of confusion for quarterbacks. It looks the same every time, but, in the seconds before the snap, or even at the snap, they break out of their disguised look into the defense they’re actually playing. Against Rodgers, making sure they don’t tip their hand too early will be critical.
“That’s something that we try to work on, especially with this quarterback this week,” Barr said. “He’s smart, so we want to disguise as much as possible. Hopefully, we can force him into some bad throws and make some plays.”
With the excitement surrounding the prospects of dealing a fatal blow to the Packers’ hope of once again winning the NFC North, Barr has heard all the chatter about the importance of the game but isn’t getting caught up in the hype. The Vikings aren’t about to count their playoff chickens before they hatch.
“That’s really not our concern,” Barr said. “Our concern is in this locker room and on the field and trying to get better. Everybody is talking about the shift in momentum in the division, but I think if you get caught up on that, you lose focus on what’s important – that’s the game, getting better and improving the little things and details.”
For the first two months of the season, the Packers seemed almost invincible. They were 6-0 heading into their bye week and had already knocked down two-time defending conference champ Seattle. But, in the three games since, the Packers have looked eminently beatable.
Denver and Detroit gave every team in the league a synopsis of how to pressure Rodgers and throttle the Green Bay offense. Barr admitted the Vikings might tweak their system a little bit based upon what other teams have done to stonewall Rodgers and the Packers offense.
“We might implement some things that they did and that were successful for them,” Barr said. “But we want to stay true to who we are and what we’ve done to be successful. We’re going to continue to try to do that this week.”
One of the big factors credited with the recent demise of the Green Bay offense has been opponents jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. Without deep threat Jordy Nelson, the Packers have had difficulty with their receivers getting separation and not giving Rodgers big enough throwing lanes to fit the ball in without the risk of interceptions.
Of the little things the Vikings might consider tweaking in their game plan, one of them won’t be jams at the line, because it’s a staple of Mike Zimmer’s defensive philosophy.
“Disrupting timing is one of the fundamental aspects of our defense,” Barr said. “There are no free releases or free entry into a route. We always try to disrupt and offense, whether it’s Green Bay or Detroit or anyone. We want to make it uncomfortable for them.”
A lot of the discussion heading into Sunday’s matchup between Minnesota and Green Bay is the problems with the Packers offense. The feeling is that Green Bay won’t give up its top spot without a fight. Barr knows that, but the Packers aren’t the only team with something to prove Sunday at The Bank.
“I’m sure they’re real hungry, but so are we,” Barr said. “We’re still trying to want to keep this thing rolling. We didn’t beat them last year, so this is a big game for us as well.”