The versatility that Anthony Barr provides to the Vikings defense has shown up multiple times early this season.
Barr was part of a barrage on pocket passers Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers, delivering clean but significant hits to each in Minnesota's convincing wins in Weeks 2 and 3.
One particular hit on Rivers took the breath of the veteran, forcing San Diego to take a time out. The next week, Head Coach Mike Zimmer deployed Barr differently, often dropping him into coverage against Denver.
The move paid off with Barr recording his first interception. Barr returned the ball that Peyton Manning intended for Andre Caldwell 32 yards to set up the Vikings for a short touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Mike Wallace.
"It's about being at the right spot at the right time," Barr said. "I think he thought I was carrying the vertical route and I came off on it."
Although an interception was the last remaining defensive statistical category to be checked off by Barr, he wasn't picky about who he picked off.
"I don't think it really matters," Barr said. "Obviously it's Peyton Manning so people are going to make a bigger deal out of it, but I was just happy to make a play that put the team in position to score points before the half."
Barr has now started all 16 games he's played. The 2014 first-round pick (ninth overall) made an immediate impact as a rookie with 99 tackles (coaches' tally), 4.0 sacks, three pass breakups, 4.0 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 12 games before suffering a knee injury.
Barr had the trifecta against Tampa Bay when he forced, recovered and returned a fumble by Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins 27 yards for a touchdown on the first play of overtime. It was the first time in Vikings history for the defense to deliver a game-winning TD in overtime.
Seferian-Jenkins had made the catch against Barr, but the linebacker's relentless pursuit, strength and athleticism turned the initial gain of 10 into a Vikings win.
Barr said he's grown more comfortable with dropping into pass coverage this season and will continue to look forward to when the plan calls for him to rush. He's shown an ability to come off the edge like he did in college, as well as up the middle when he and another linebacker, often former Bruins teammate and 2015 second-round pick Eric Kendricks, mug the A gaps between the center and the guards.
"The San Diego game I was rushing a lot, and the Denver game, I was dropping back into coverage a lot," Barr said. "It's really a week-to-week thing, a game plan thing. What I'm asked to do, I'm doing it."
Coverage by linebackers of Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce — the Chiefs second-leading receiver with 24 catches for 328 yards (13.7 avg.) and two touchdowns — could be quite pivotal Sunday when the Vikings (2-2) host the Chiefs (1-4).
"I think he's one of the better tight ends in the game and might be their best offensive player after Jamaal [Charles], so it's going to be a focus to slow him down as much as possible," Barr said.
Kendricks, who made his first career start at Denver, added: "(Kelce is) very good, one of the best tight ends in the NFL, in my opinion. They give him the ball a lot, split him out, bring him in, he's a good blocker as well, so he's going to be a good challenge for us.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said Kelce "does an excellent job with their route tree," running different types of routes well.
"He is one of the guys that we know he is going to get the football," Edwards said. "So that is one of the things that we've got to make sure in our matchups and our zones and our progressions underneath, that we do a good job with the leverage and whatever we've got called for that play."
If that's a card that Barr draws, he's worked to be ready.
"I've turned (coverage) from a weakness to, not a strong point, but something I want to do now," Barr said. "I want to drop back in coverage, so last year I was maybe hesitant and not as confident, so I definitely feel like I've improved in that area."