Throughout much of this year, head coach Mike Zimmer has defended Barr’s play, saying he simply isn’t making the “splash” plays, but on Wednesday there was a more pointed assessment.
“Anthony sometimes has a tendency to coast a little bit,” Zimmer said. “I think when he cuts it loose a little bit more, because that’s when you see him making the explosive plays, the kind of wow plays.”
As a rookie in 2014, Barr played in 12 games and had 99 tackles, four sacks, 13 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered.
Last year, Barr played in 14 games and had 80 tackles, 3½ sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. So, more games but a drop in production and those splash plays.
This year, Barr hasn’t missed a game, but in 14 games so far he has 76 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He hasn’t missed a game, but he also has hardly missed a snap – playing in 910 of 916 defensive snaps.
Perhaps the wear and tear of the season is catching up to him.
Barr said he is healthy enough to do the things he normally does, but admitted he can play better.
“Always. Always. But it’s just the way things work out sometimes. You can only do so much,” he said. “You want to do your job, you want to make plays and sometimes they don’t come to you so you’ve got to make the ones that do.”
In fact, at times when Zimmer has criticized the defense he has given a similar assessment: that players were trying to do too much instead of letting plays come to them.
When asked about Barr earlier this week, Zimmer said he can do better in all areas. Zimmer said he, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer and George Edwards have all talked with Barr about “cutting it loose” more often.
“Barr has been Barr,” Edwards said. “We haven’t seen as many splash plays out of him and that kind of thing, but systematically, what we’re asking him to do, he’s doing. I think matching up with running backs, matching up with tight ends, he has done that. Blitz-wise, a lot of times, people are very conscientious of where he’s at in what we’re trying to do blitz-wise. So, a lot of times, he gets protection to him.”
Earlier this week, fresh off an uncharacteristically bad performance for the defense overall, Zimmer said Barr can do “a lot better.”
Barr seemed to take the criticism in stride.
“You can always play better and just try to learn from mistakes and try to go out next week and play well,” he said.
But Barr has also worked his way through several injuries along the way.
In October, he was dealing with a wrist injury and later that month an ankle injury, but he didn’t miss a practice. In early November, he was limited for one practice with a groin injury and then listed again the following week with an ankle injury.
It would stand to reason that injuries have played a part in Barr’s decrease in splash plays, but either way the coaches expect more.
“We’re looking for him to play better,” Edwards said, “and I know he will play better.”