Well, at Least the Vikings Recognize the Problem.

Explained: 8 Items Learned from Vikings Final Preseason Game
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Some fans couldn’t quite shake the Minnesota Vikings’ playcalling in overtime at the Cincinnati Bengals. The club fired up back-to-back unsuccessful sneaks at Paycor Stadium, dooming the team’s chances of winning and sending the win-loss record to 7-7 on the year.

That was the popular talking point, usually in capital letters: “Why didn’t they do something other than a quarterback sneak?”

Well, at Least the Vikings Recognize the Problem

But the real problem, quarterback sneaks be damned, was Minnesota’s defensive meltdown.

the Vikings Recognize
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

The Vikings snatched a 17-3 road lead to start the 4th Quarter and proceeded to allow back-to-back-to-back scoring drives to the Bengals, spanning 70+ yards on each occasion. It was a collapse, plain and simple.

Thankfully, for the team and its fans’ sake, defensive coordinator Brian Flores acknowledges the problem. He owned his defensive culpability this week, assuredly not finger-pointing at quarterback sneaks like many fans.

and secondary
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) makes a touchdown over Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) in the 4th quarter Paycor Stadium Saturday, December 16, 2023. © Cara Owsley/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

“They certainly made some plays down the field on some things that were contested catches. I think down the stretch, especially in that end-of-game, two-minute, four-minute, that mode, we’ve gotta do a better job of finishing games. That’s something I really take personal responsibility for. I’ve gotta coach it better, I gotta put our guys in better positions,” Flores told reporters on Wednesday, four days before the Vikings host the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium.

This attribute — reducing defensive aggression — is a trend for Brian Flores-led defenses late in games. The Vikings hired Flores in February, a few weeks after cutting ties with Ed Donatell, who defensively coordinated the Vikings for one season. The hire was remarkable. Flores turned around a leaky defense in mere months.

Corner Help
Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores takes over the team’s defense at an introductory press conference on February 15th, 2023, in Eagan, Minnesota.

That doesn’t erase the sins of the 4th Quarter, though. Minnesota has infamously squandered late-game leads versus the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears this season, seeming to take a foot off the gas. The Flores defense that risks everything during Quarters 1 through 3 tends to embrace conservatism down the stretch of ball games.

Flores mentioned falling into zone coverage at Cincinnati, “As a play-caller, there’s things you can call to take that away. If you take that away, then you’re giving up something else. Especially in those kind of situations, I’ve got to do a better job of putting our guys in position to take that one away.”

How Far Can Danielle
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) is sacked hard by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) in the second quarter of the NFL Week 15 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at PayCor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Here are the situational Flores numbers in the last few seasons:

Brian Flores Defense,
EPA/Play Ranking,
Since 2019:

2023 —
Quarters 1 thru 3: 6th
4th Quarter & OT: 16th

2021 —
Quarters 1 thru 3: 5th
4th Quarter & OT: 18th

2020 —
Quarters 1 thru 3: 6th
4th Quarter & OT: 11th

2019 —
Quarters 1 thru 3: 31st
4th Quarter & OT: 32nd

So, as of December 20th, Flores knows the problem. Maybe he’ll even fix it.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.