After Thursday night’s game, Anthony Barr was the butt of every joke, the symbol of the Vikings fan’s discontent with the first four weeks of the season. His lack of an extension was viewed as a godsend as he surrendered three touchdowns against the Rams. However, many fans were quick to shift the blame from Barr to Mike Zimmer, given that two of the touchdowns were the result of defending receivers. Which is a fair point. However, Rams coach Sean McVay clearly made a point of targeting the Viking linebackers in pass coverage and creating mismatches with them.

Let’s take a look at how he did it specifically with Barr on the three touchdowns.

Touchdown #1: Goff to Gurley

This one had nothing fancy. No motion, no exploitation of a mismatch. Todd Gurley is simply one of the best receiving backs in the league, and he ate Barr’s lunch on this play.

Rams go four-wide with trips right. Vikings are in nickel, Mike Hughes on the slot and Andrew Sendejo over the inside receiver. That leaves Trae Waynes, Harrison Smith and Barr on the left.

Barr is man-up on Gurley with Smith over the top. Here is where things get interesting. With trips out to their left, Smith moves over so his deep zone leans that direction. That leaves Barr one-on-one with Gurley, something he should be able to cover. A quick jab step is all it takes to get on top of Barr for the easy touchdown.

Touchdown #2: Goff to Kupp

McVay’s offense is a lot of moving parts, but the crux of it is fairly simple. A lot of it comes down to having receivers cross the field, either pre- or post-snap, to force mismatches, not unlike screening in basketball to cause a switch. This is an excellent example of it.

The Rams are in a run formation, so the Vikings come out in Cover 1 robber (man defense with at least one mid-zone player). Sendejo is the single high safety. Smith, Barr and Eric Kendricks are essentially zone players, but two of the three will man the running back and the tight end while the third stays in a middle zone. Mackensie Alexander is on the slot receiver (Cooper Kupp). However, because Kupp crosses the formation, Alexander passes him off. Smith keeps his eyes on Gurley and the tight end stays in to pass protect. Kendricks and Alexander drop into zone, leaving Barr one-on-one with Kupp.

Most importantly, the other two receivers head deep towards the far sideline and Jared Goff looks Sendejo off that direction. So Barr’s only help is completely out of the picture. It now just becomes a matter of who is faster, a receiver or a linebacker. Receiver wins 99 times out of 100.

Touchdown #3: Goff to Woods

This was all scheming and personnel advantage going the Rams’ way. Look at what formation the Rams come out in.

21 personnel, a receiver split out on each side. As such, the Vikings respond with base defense: three linebackers, four defensive backs. Well, here is the formation from which the Rams run the play.

They split Gurley wide left, the fullback Gerald Everett wide right. The Vikings, unfortunately, cannot switch personnel, so they are somewhat mismatched. Now, the Vikings still have some confidence in what they are doing, since they run a cover 3 zone on this play. Hughes, Sendejo and Holton Hill drop back into deep thirds, Smith, Barr, Kendricks and Ben Gedeon stay in mid zones.

The Rams run four verticals with Everett running a dig underneath. As a result, Sendejo is split as the center field and he makes a decision. Reading Goff’s eyes, he decides to lean to the seam on his left. Unfortunately, that leaves Barr on an island up the right seam. So once again, it becomes a matter of a foot race between receiver and linebacker. And like clockwork, the Rams hit the home run again.

The point of all of this is to say that Barr’s “awful” coverage performance was, in fact, a combination of effective play calling from McVay, poor scheming by Zimmer and great safety manipulation by Goff. The Gurley touchdown was 100 percent on Barr. But the other two were simple exploitation of a mismatch. That is not to say that the Vikings’ pass defense is a concern moving forward; it most certainly is. But Barr is hardly the root of the problem. The three touchdowns on his record are a symptom, not the disease. If I could tell you how to treat the disease, well then I would be an NFL coach. That is what Zimmer is paid to do. And he has to do it quick, lest the Vikings fall into a hole that prematurely cancels their playoff dreams.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and

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