As many have heard by now, the Vikings have hired former Miami Dolphins head coach and current Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant Brian Flores as their new defensive coordinator.
Whether it’s been in Miami, Pittsburgh, or even his previous New England Patriots tenure, Flores’ defenses have always ranked among the league’s best. Today, we are going to go over what Vikings fans can expect from our new defensive leader.
Regarding the main defensive schemes of 3-4 and 4-3, Flores mostly runs a 3-4. However, he is not afraid to use a 4-3 scheme in order to confuse opposing offenses. Using a blend of both fronts, Flores puts heavy emphasis on blitzing. His favorite scheme is called the “Tite” front, which sees three defensive linemen line up against five offensive linemen, otherwise known as a 4i technique. This front also sends two outside linebackers to rush the passer and gives them a chance to go up against the tackles. This scheme is really effective against the run, as evidenced by what Flores did to help the Steelers run defense last season. After ranking dead last against the run in 2021, the Flores-coached run defense became one of the league’s best, allowing the ninth-fewest rushing yards in the entire league and only seven rushing touchdowns, tied with the Patriots for the fewest allowed. Nose tackles are really important to this scheme, which will elevate the game of Harrison Phillips and potentially Dalvin Tomlinson, should he return next season. In Miami, Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis thrived in this scheme, and a big reason being that this game plan often saw them left one on one against opposing centers that were undersized.
Flores-led defenses also put heavy emphasis on takeaways, as evidenced by the work he did with the 2020 Dolphins. That year, All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard had a season to remember as he recorded 10 interceptions, the first player since Antonio Cromartie of the Chargers to record that many in a season. Largely thanks to Flores’ coaching and Howard’s ten interceptions, the Dolphins led the league in defensive takeaways. Also of note: Flores’ effective coaching showed in 2020, as the defense improved from a dead-last ranking in 2019 to the 11th-ranked defense, including the sixth-ranked defense against both the pass and in terms of scoring.
Flores enjoys running a Cover Zero defense, in order to manipulate pass protection. This scheme focuses entirely on making all 11 men on defense closer to the line of scrimmage, rather than having somebody covering the back end. A Flores-coached defense in this scheme often sees every defender, whether it’s a lineman or a defensive back, engaging with the offensive line before retreating to the intended coverage spot. This manipulates the offensive line into thinking that the defense is sending in four guys to rush the passer on one side, when actually they are actually sending two. This enables the other side of the defense to have four rushers on just three linemen, allowing a defender to have a free run at the quarterback and essentially get an easy sack. A cover zero defense also sees the defense bait quarterbacks into making mistakes because of the heavy man coverage used in the secondary. Due to Flores’ extensive knowledge of this scheme, he knows when opposing offenses are going to attempt to neutralize it. Usually, if Flores can correctly predict the opposing offense’s plan to block the cover zero scheme, he is able to drop players into coverage and still be able to give a defender a free run towards the quarterback.
As mentioned earlier, Flores puts a lot of emphasis on blitzing. This can be really effective, as the defense often jumps offensive routes and places a spy on the quarterback. This type of blitz will force the quarterback to either get the ball out quickly or risk either taking a sack or making a crucial mistake, such as throwing an interception or losing a fumble. This allows the defense to be more aggressive, and was a big reason why the 2020 Dolphins ended the season ranked plus-nine in turnover differential.
Flores’ schemes allow everyone on the defense to contribute. During his Miami tenure, many players, whether it was a defensive lineman or defensive back, finished with five or more sacks when the defense had an individually great season as a unit. This is largely because when Flores executes his game plan successfully, it allows anyone to get a chance to get a free run at the quarterback, no matter the size or position. An average safety can become a great sack master thanks to Flores’ scheme. This was also evident during his Steelers stint, as outside linebacker Alex Highsmith broke out with 14.5 sacks and a league-high five forced fumbles, largely thanks to Flores’ work as the team’s linebackers coach.
When Flores is not using his Tite front, he is often using a cover zero scheme with high blitz emphasis. If you go look at the stats of his Dolphins defenses from 2019 to 2021, you will see the significant improvement that was made from year to year.
This hire also provides a lot of questions as to what veteran Vikings could be around next year on defense. Just about every veteran, as of right now, has been rumored to be a potential trade or cut candidate. However, Flores’ scheme may allow someone such as Harrison Smith to be brought back thanks to his effectiveness in both coverage and rushing the passer. It also allows an opportunity for young players such as Brian Asamoah, whose speed and youth are vital to this defense right now, to take their game to a new level.
Flores is a great hire by the Vikings, and his schemes will be really fun to watch. However, this team does need the right personnel to be able to execute them. The player movement this offseason will be interesting to watch. As long as his defense is better than the Ed Donatell disaster, many Vikings fans will be very happy with this hire.