Vikings Employ 1 of the League’s Most Important Coaches

Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell introduced new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores from the TCO Performance Center on February 15th, 2023. Flores coached for the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and Pittsburgh Steelers before joining the Vikings in 2023.

The head coach of a franchise is perhaps the most important person in the organization. There is a reason why Andy Reid and Bill Belichick have had excellent teams for the majority of their tenure. But even those great coaches on their sides of the ball – Belichick on defense and Reid on offense – need help in the opposite unit. A bad defense drags a great offense down and a great defense is going nowhere with the 2022 Patriots offense run by Matt Patricia and Mac Jones.

Vikings Employ 1 of the League’s Most Important Coaches

Minnesota had one of those underwhelming defenses in 2022 for the third consecutive season. While the offense hasn’t been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, the defense is the main cause of why the team missed the postseason twice in that stretch and was bounced in the first postseason contest last season. The decision-makers adjusted accordingly, replacing defensive coordinator Ed Donatell with former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

Most Important Coaches
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores in Miami Gardens, September 15, 2019. © Allen Eyestone via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

The firing of the highly-regarded coach created a large outrage. He turned around Miami’s organization from a laughing stock to a respected franchise, recording the first back-to-back seasons with a winning record in roughly two decades. Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport ranked the ten most important coordinators in the NFL and Flores came in fifth.

There may not be a coordinator on this list being asked to do more with less than new Vikings DC Brian Flores. The Vikings were a 13-win division champion in 2022, but they had an abysmal defense—only the Detroit Lions allowed more yards per game, and only two teams allowed more points per game.

Settling the contract dispute with star edge-rusher Danielle Hunter was a step forward. But the change from Za’Darius Smith to Marcus Davenport was a step backward. So was the move from veteran Eric Kendricks to Brian Asamoah at inside linebacker. The Vikings added Byron Murphy at cornerback, but the secondary remains a major question mark.

It’s that last part that could be a real problem for Flores, who favors aggressive play-calls and blitzes. That means a lot of man coverage on the back end, which could be a problem.

Frankly, if Flores can turn the Vikings into even an average defense, he will deserve consideration for Assistant Coach of the Year.

Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Indeed, personnel is a major problem in Minnesota’s defensive unit and it might take another year or two to remove those concerns through the draft and free agency unless a handful of Vikings defenders explode in the upcoming season. Although, the new DC arguably had even worse players in his first year in Miami.

Last year’s rookie Brian Asamoah and this year’s UDFA Ivan Pace are two defenders that have had a great start and seem poised to play a significant role in Flores’ defense. Asamoah will be the starter next to Jordan Hicks while Pace is drawing praise as a pass-rushing middle linebacker, allowed by his rare skillset.

Perhaps an afterthought in another defensive system because of his size, Pace is the perfect fit for Flores who loves to live and die by blitzing, trying to put offenses in hell by firing up pressures. Pace is the microcosm of the new defense – fast, young, and aggressive.

Sep 24, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

A big issue is the secondary as the cornerback group is a completely new one. Four players left, and new players joined. Byron Murphy is the top defender but he needs help from Akayleb Evans, Mekhi Blackmon, and Joejuan Williams. Better coverage is a big point of emphasis. The theory is that more blitzes help out the cover players because they don’t have to cover as long. On the flip side, they are asked to play single coverage more often.

It remains to be seen if the approach actually works and leads to an improvement but it is obvious that the philosophy is the polar opposite from last season – Donatell tried to sit back to slow down the offense, the new idea is to be proactive and try to make mistakes happen.

Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Danielle Hunter’s return provides a big boost. He and Marcus Davenport form the strong suit of the defense personnel-wise – a strong pass rush. Another problem, meanwhile, might be the interior of the defensive line after the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson to the Cleveland Browns. Khyiris Tonga and Harrison Phillips are asked to close the gaps.

The personnel could be a problem, much depends on the development of rookies and sophomores. Regardless, while more success is not guaranteed, a more aggressive defense will lead to a less frustrating product to watch.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt