Brian Flores Instantly Improves Vikings 2023 Defense

The Vikings’ search for a new defensive coordinator is over, and we couldn’t be more excited. Brian Flores instantly improves the 2023 defense for the Vikings. As he comes to Minnesota, he will bring a much more aggressive style of play with him.

The Vikings, under the play calling of Ed Donatell, ran one of the most passive defenses in the NFL. Pundits who talked about the Vikings, like Mina Kimes, consistently asked why they played so much off-coverage, especially when the defense was getting shredded.

On top of the corners playing soft, they simply did not blitz frequently enough. According to Pro Football Reference, the team ranked 24th with a blitz percentage of 18.9%. The combination of a low blitz percentage and off-coverage play ultimately resulted in one of the worst defenses in Minnesota history.

The good news for those who wanted a change is that Brian Flores calls a very aggressive defensive scheme. During his tenure with the Steelers as a defensive assistant in 2022, they blitzed 31.5% of the time, which ranked 6th in the NFL.

Flores Instantly Improves
Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores talks with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) during a timeout during the second half of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

However, when he was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, he was even more aggressive. During his tenure from 2019-2021:

  • 2019 – 31.6% (11th)
  • 2020 – 40.8% (2nd)
  • 2021 – 39.6% (2nd)

This style of play is a real YOLO vibe and a welcomed change of pace in 2023. However, it is going to require significant investment into the cornerback position. The Vikings will need to add some help in free agency and probably draft two cornerbacks in April.

While cornerback will be the primary position of concern for the 2023 off-season, we can look at how the Flores scheme will benefit the players currently on the Vikings roster.

How Flores Instantly Improves Defensive Personnel

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

There is some concern, rightfully so, about the aging veterans on defense. Some of the older veterans have lost a step, which was abundantly evident towards the end of the 2022 season. The linebackers and defensive backs were getting burned on simple crossing routes or running backs in the flat.

However, some of these concerns could disappear with Flores at the helm. The defensive scheme he runs is primarily a man-match scheme, not the zone-match scheme Donatell was running. This style of play is much closer to what Zimmer was running.

It is safe to assume that moving back to a man-match will benefit the long-time Vikings like Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks. More important than that is that the aggressive blitz packages will unlock guys like Harrison Smith and Brian Asamoah. Also, it will cover up the deficiencies in the secondary.

When you live and die by the blitz, you ask a lot of your corners. They need to play man-to-man. In today’s game, the Vikings corners will probably get dusted more than once. However, if the blitz gets home, none of that matters.

Blitzing is one of the specialties of Harrison Smith. He has always been a great disguiser of coverages and blitzes, and now he can utilize that skill again. This, of course, assumes the Vikings decide to keep him around.

2023 Breakout Candidate
Sep 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) in action against the Detroit Lions during the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Brian Asamoah is another guy who will benefit from the blitz-heavy scheme. He already plays a YOLO style of ball. If the Vikings blitz and he somehow end up unblocked in the A gap, good luck to opposing quarterbacks trying to outrun him.

The other players to benefit will be the entire defensive line. They did a good job pressuring quarterbacks in 2022, even though they struggled to create sacks due to wide-open receivers. Under the Flores scheme, they can do what they are best at.

Danielle Hunter will have his hand in the dirt. Za’Darius Smith will not be the big looper on stunts but will instead be replaced with faster guys like Smith and Asamoah. This will leave him free to destroy offensive guards.

To sum this up, here are the three main takeaways

  1. You will live and die by the blitz
  2. Cornerbacks will be on an island
  3. Long-time personnel get to go back to what they know

Mitch Massman is a lifelong Vikings fan. His first heartbreak was the 1998 NFC championship game. His full-time job is as an economic development professional in rural Minnesota. He fantasizes about the Vikings winning a Super Bowl one day, but until then he will write about the Vikings. Follow him on Twitter @skol_vikings3