Vikings Finally Have a Defensive Coordinator + Super Bowl Prediction

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Vikings Insider, The GM’s View

It had to be a frustrating experience for Kevin O’Connell to be forced to wait so long before getting an answer from his top defensive coordinator candidates. Most coordinator positions are filled within a couple of weeks after the regular season, yet it took three weeks following the Vikings playoff loss before O’Connell heard back from former Patriots defensive coach and Dolphins head coach Brian Flores with a positive response. 

Vikings players and fans should be excited about Flores overseeing the defense that struggled much of this past season. Flores coached under one of the great defensive minds in Bill Belichick and was the defensive play caller during his last season in New England, which culminated with a Super Bowl championship.

Vikings Finally Have a Defensive Coordinator + Super Bowl Prediction

In Miami, Flores had two winning seasons in 2020 and 2021 before being wrongly dismissed by a bad owner in Stephen Ross. He landed in a good spot as a senior assistant and linebackers coach in Pittsburgh under an excellent head coach in Mike Tomlin.

Flores had interviewed for the Cardinals’ head coaching job, which delayed the hiring in Minnesota. O’Connell knows him from their time together in New England when O’Connell was the backup quarterback. Flores has utilized the 3-4, as was the case with Ed Donatell last season, but Flores is more aggressive in terms of increased man coverage (but with a mix of coverages) and more blitzing. His 2021 Miami defense blitzed 28.5% of the time, third most in the league and significantly more than the 18.9% rate of the Vikings under Donatell.

Have a Defensive
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores before the start of the game against the New England Patriots during NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium Sunday in Miami Gardens. © BILL INGRAM /THE PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK.

O’Connell wants his defense to be more aggressive, and he should have his man to get that accomplished with Flores. 

I thought Flores was a better candidate than the other reported finalist for the job—Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero who wound up as Carolina’s new DC. Evero has only one year of experience as a defensive coordinator compared to Flores’ much greater experience as the person overseeing and calling NFL defenses.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell at U.S. Bank Stadium after Minnesota lost to the New York Giants in the Wildcard Round of the postseason, 31-24.

Flores now has five weeks to study the Vikings defensive players and help O’Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah determine who should stay and who should go in free agency or via cuts. He will weigh in on pending free agents such as Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Chandon Sullivan, Duke Shelley, and Kris Boyd, along with contract extension, restructure or release candidates, including Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, and Harrison Smith. He also will study outside free agents to look for good fits within his scheme.  

Super Bowl LVII Preview & Prediction:

I’m excited about the Eagles vs. Chiefs matchup of top seeds in each conference with many star players to watch, led by two dynamic quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes for K.C. and Jalen Hurts for Philly, the two top candidates for league MVP this season. 

These are two teams who are solid in the trenches. The Eagles have a deep group of talented pass rushers led by Haason Reddick (16 sacks over the regular season plus 3 ½ sacks in the two playoff wins over the Giants and 49ers). The Eagles D held San Fran’s top-five offense to 164 total yards in the NFC title game and had three sacks and 7 QB hits while knocking both Niner QBs out of the game. The Chiefs defense is led by All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones. They had five sacks and 12 QB hits on Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow in the AFC title game, and Burrow also was pressured into throwing two interceptions. 

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I give an edge to the Eagles’ offensive line led by All-Pro center Jason Kelce who paved the way for a 148-yard rushing day with four TDs on the ground while allowing the 49ers top-ranked defense only one sack and 2 QB hits on Hurts. 

The Chiefs had only 42 rushing yards in the AFC title game, and it will be just as tough for them to run on the Eagles’ No. 2 ranked D. That puts the onus on Mahomes to have a great game against the NFL’s top pass defense that racked up 70 sacks during the regular season, third-most all time. But I never count out Mahomes, the best QB and best overall player in the NFL. I think he’ll make enough plays to keep it close, but his ankle injury (which he claims is OK) could limit his scrambling, which is a big part of his game.

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Eagles GM Howie Roseman has done a tremendous job building a championship team through the draft with second-round picks Hurts and lead back Miles Sanders, along with 2021 No. 1 pick Smith coming aboard as excellent skill position players on offense. He made a big mistake by selecting receiver Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson, who was picked one spot later in the 2020 first round by the Vikings. But Roseman rebounded by drafting Smith and trading for Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown (but he wouldn’t have needed both if he had chosen Jefferson). 

Roseman has worked salary cap magic with restructures and the use of voidable contracts to battle through a lot of dead money against the cap due to players such as Wentz leaving. Roseman and his scouting and coaching staff have had great success in free agency with signings such as Reddick, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (11 sacks this season), and corner James Bradberry. Roseman also has been prolific recently in the trade area, dumping QB Carson Wentz to Indy in 2021 for first and third-round picks and stealing Brown from Tennessee for a No. 1 and No. 3 pick, All-Pro corner Darius Slay from Detroit for third and fifth-round picks and safety C.J. Chandler-Jones from New Orleans for fifth and sixth rounders.

Chiefs GM Brett Veach also has done a great job working with Coach Andy Reid to build a team that is playing in the Super Bowl for the third time in the last four years. The Chiefs overcame the loss via trade of Tyreek Hill by bringing in quality veteran receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and they drafted Skyy Moore in the second round. K.C. used three of the five draft picks they obtained in the Hill trade to move up and pick a quality corner in Trent McDuffie. The money they saved on Hill also was needed, with Mahomes’ salary cap number increasing by $28 million from 2021 to 2022 (to $35 million). 

That’s another advantage for Philly with Hurts on his rookie contract with a $1.64 million cap charge this past season which will likely change in the next year as he enters his final season under contract and should be extended for $40 million or more per year (but the first couple years will have low cap numbers due to a large signing bonus being pro-rated over the life of the new contract).   

In Sunday’s Super Bowl, it will be entertaining to see the All-Pro Kelce brothers on opposing teams—center Jason for the Eagles and tight end Travis, the younger brother, for the Chiefs. Then there are the two coaches—fiery Nick Sirianni and the ultra-successful Andy Reid, who once led the Eagles to a Super Bowl before getting fired and landing in Kansas City, where he’s done so well, including the Super Bowl victory over the 49ers in 2019 and a loss to Tampa Bay in 2020. It has to be a strange experience for Reid to coach the big game against his former team.   

Jeff’s Super Bowl pick: I think the Eagles defense that gave up only seven points in each playoff win is too good and will be the difference in the game, along with the Eagles outstanding offensive line wearing down the Chiefs front seven. Hurts running ability and his dynamic duo at wide receiver—Brown and  Smith—also will be deciding factors in Philly’s favor. Mahomes will keep it fairly close with his connections to Travis Kelce and his other receivers, but his ankle injury that should limit his scrambling is a problem against such a great pass-rushing opponent. 

The Eagles win 30-24.  

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl