Good article on Flores defense

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Good article on Flores defense

Post by makila »

Cliff, it's behind the paywall, if you think this is too long/needs to be removed I get it, thought it was a great read though. :|
I put all the images to host on imgr.

It's felt like Flores was doing something different, unique, and this seems to reinforce that. I wasn't aware of the time he spent with Pitt's coaches while at the Steelers last year. I like that he absorbed something new and integrated it.

Also utilizing the fact that there are high football IQ guys on the defense, and that they can still quickly analyze and process what is going on pre-snap, etc.

As the game evolves to be so passing driven, and the rules favor it, I like that he's playing mind games with the QB. Ultimately a confused QB can wreck any offensive game plan. Eventually the league will adjust to what he's doing right now. I think Flores can continue to adjust from everything we've seen however. ... defense-2/

Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores has mastered art of psychological war on QBs
By Ted Nguyen
Dec 15, 2023

Scoring is down across the NFL this season. Why? Defenses have found success fighting fire with fire.

The best defenses in the league are aggressive. They are either blitzing and effectively dismantling protection plans or they are causing havoc with the illusion of aggression via simulated pressures, which are concepts in which the defense will rush four but use a linebacker or defensive back as one or more of the four pass rushers. And no one around the league is blitzing or confusing offenses with sim pressures as much as Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

Coming out of New England where he began his coaching career in 2008, Flores used a lot of man coverage behind his blitzes when he was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. In Miami, he built an entire defensive system from Cover 0 blitzes (man-to-man with no deep help). They are still a staple of what he does with the Vikings, but he has added a lot to his playbook from a coverage and disguise perspective.

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote a fantastic article outlining how Flores was influenced by University of Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi’s system during Flores’ stint with the Steelers last season. The Steelers share a practice facility with the University of Pittsburgh football team, and during his time there, Flores watched film with Pitt defensive backs coach Tiquan Underwood. Learning Narduzzi’s system and integrating it with his own, Flores has created something truly unique.

“They’re a really good defense, really good defensive coordinator,” Las Vegas Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell said after his team’s 3-0 loss to the Vikings last Sunday. “They made it difficult for us to do our normal stuff … with different personnel, different fronts, different blitzes, different coverages.” (After getting shut out by the Vikings, O’Connell and the Raiders went on to score 63 points in a win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night.)

Most of the time, the Vikings appear to be playing man — but with some zone or pattern match principles. It’s not completely clear what their rules are or how they play routes. I just know that, more often than not, the Minnesota secondary ends up dropping to exactly where receivers are running. In Week 11, Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton joked about how much extra time his staff needed to watch film on the Vikings defense. If Payton can’t figure it out watching clips over and over again in slow motion, imagine being a quarterback trying to decipher the coverage in real time with the threat of a free rusher coming at you.

“It looks like the secondary is just by themselves,” Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones told Seifert. “There’s no post safety. There’s no Cover 2. It looks like it’s just one-on-one everywhere. But it’s not. It’s an illusion.”

Week 7, 15:00 remaining in the second quarter, third-and-4


In this clip against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7, the Vikings showed pressure, as they often do, with eight defenders on the line of scrimmage. On the back end, it looked like they were in Cover 0 and each receiver had a one-on-one.


After the ball was snapped, though, only four defenders rushed and the defense began to drop to create layers. Initially, it was still unclear what coverage they were in because the secondary wasn’t aligned in a recognizable shape.

The 49ers tried to run off the corner with the No. 1 receiver to create space for an outbreaking route from the No. 2 receiver. If the defense was in a regular four-deep zone, this play should have resulted in a first down.


However, the defense was playing more of a trap technique. Cornerback Akayleb Evans broke on the out route, while cornerback Byron Murphy Jr., who was playing safety, took the No. 1 receiver. Evans dislodged the ball for an incomplete with a vicious hit.

It’s extremely difficult to figure out what coverage the Vikings will be in after the snap, and quarterbacks don’t have a lot of time to watch the defense drop. They have to speed up their mental clock because of all the potential rushers on the line of scrimmage.

“Sometimes the implied threat of it is just as good as the pressure itself,” Minnesota assistant head coach Mike Pettine told Seifert. “I think Flo’s in a good place there. Part of it was trying to figure out who we were and maybe who we weren’t. … I think we found an identity and honed in on an area of the package we knew was causing teams problems. Some of the things we’re doing have limited what some offenses have done. We’ve forced teams to change who they are, which is a good thing.”

Through Week 14, the Vikings are leading the league in blitz rate, blitzing on 45.1 percent of snaps, according to TruMedia. To counter their aggression, opponents are getting rid of the ball quickly and utilizing more underneath routes or screens. But like any good defense, the Vikings understand their potential weaknesses — how offenses want to attack them — and react accordingly.

Week 12, 10:39 remaining in the first quarter, second-and-6


Here, the Chicago Bears tried to run an “arrow” screen against the Vikings with the No. 3 receiver running an arrow route with the No. 1 and 2 receivers blocking for him. Initially, it appeared the Bears had an advantage on the perimeter with three receivers against two defensive backs.


But when the screen was thrown, Murphy and safety Camryn Bynum quickly converged, easily defeated the stalk block attempts and tackled the ball carrier for a minimal gain. Although offenses might occasionally pop a screen on the Vikings, more often than not these plays are getting stopped near the line of scrimmage. The secondary plays with physicality and it tackles well. The linebackers and defensive line also do a great job of playing traditional screens.

So why don’t offenses just max protect and throw deep on them? That’s how offenses would try to beat Flores’ defenses in the past: protect with seven and try to hit a receiver on a double move outside. But part of Narduzzi’s influence on Flores is using two-deep coverages with his blitz schemes. Flores is also calling regular Cover 2 at a high rate. The Vikings lead the league in Cover 2 snaps by a wide margin (155). The next closest team is the Bears with 105.

It’s mentally exhausting for an opposing quarterback to have to cycle through thinking about having to throw quickly against Cover 0 and being patient against Cover 2. For an opposing play caller, if you go max protection to account for a potential blitz and throw deep, you might just end up sending two deep receivers against seven or eight defenders playing Cover 2.

Week 8, 8:40 remaining in the third quarter, third-and-9


Against the Green Bay Packers on third-and-9, the Vikings once again crowded the line with eight defenders and gave the offense a Cover 0 presentation.


However, after the ball was snapped, eight defenders dropped and only three rushed. The Packers kept seven blockers in to protect and only had three receivers running routes against eight defenders.


Packers quarterback Jordan Love tried to go downfield, but the Vikings dropped into a soft zone coverage and picked off the pass.

Week 14, 9:38 remaining in the first quarter, first-and-10


Here, the Raiders tried to take advantage of the Vikings’ aggressiveness by faking a screen and throwing deep. After running back Josh Jacobs motioned across the field, the defense showed one-deep with safety Harrison Smith in the middle of the field.


Evans and Bynum bit on the fake, but the defense appeared to rotate into a two-deep zone with Smith playing one half and Murphy Jr. playing the other half.


Smith squeezed the vertical routes and made the window small. O’Connell was unable to hit the pass.

There is also a chance that Smith and Murphy just read O’Connell’s eyes and rotated into place naturally. In this system, defenders quickly trigger with the quarterback’s eyes because they know passers don’t have a lot of time to look off or make crossfield reads. It’s hard to decipher what the secondary is doing. Smith seems to have a lot of freedom, and his instincts and tendency to be in the right place have been crucial to this defense’s success.

“I think when coach Flores got here, he might’ve been shocked that because we have a veteran defense in a lot of the key positions — especially to start with Harry (Smith), (linebacker) Jordan (Hicks), and then myself up front — we’re able to get a little bit more complex and put in two and three calls,” Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “So when offenses are checking at the line of scrimmage, we can get into our second call. And then when they think we’re in a max look, we can get into another call. Being able to trust us and see the mental capability that we have as a defense has allowed us to get deeper and deeper as we’re going on this season and there’s more reps. The guys are all getting on the same page.”

Flores’ signature Cover 0 blitz is called “Hawk,” which is a read blitz in which the defense reads which way the protection is sliding. The defenders to the slide side drop, while the defenders away from it rush. Now, Flores has a veteran like Phillips changing the call based on what he thinks the protection will be before the snap. It’s hell for an offensive play caller because, now, they have to think about not giving away their protections. For example, if the center typically points to the linebacker that they slide to, they have to work on breaking that habit against the Vikings. If they know what protection you’re in, they’re going to have an effective strategy for beating it.

Week 14, 13:10 remaining in the second quarter, third-and-5


Here, Flores had his best pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, in a linebacker spot lined up directly over the center. This sort of alignment will usually get the offense to check into its man-protection scheme, meaning each blocker will essentially be responsible for the defender lined up over him. Center Andre James had Hunter, and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor had outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum.


After the snap, though, Hunter rushed wide to his left (the O-line’s right) and defensive tackle Sheldon Day picked Eluemunor to open up a lane for Wonnum, who had a free path to the quarterback for a sack.

What Flores has done with this defense is nothing short of remarkable. Last season, the Vikings ranked 24th in the league in defensive EPA per dropback. It took some time for the Vikings to acclimate to Flores’ system, but since Week 5, they rank fifth in defensive EPA per dropback. And he’s doing it with a lot of the same players from last season’s porous unit.

There are ways to beat this Vikings defense, but offenses must have very tailored game plans and do things outside their comfort zone. They can’t just go into a game against the Vikings assuming their base plays will get the job done. Forcing teams to do things they aren’t comfortable with is already a small win for the defense before the game even starts. On top of that, offenses have to play an unfamiliar style while trying to deal with the psychological confusion that Flores imposes on quarterbacks with his disguises and unpredictable play calling.

In a copycat league like the NFL, it’s hard to do something unique, especially from a defensive perspective. But Flores has done it, and play callers and quarterbacks are paying for it.
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Re: Good article on Flores defense

Post by chicagopurple »

All his good ideas fly out the window in the 4th quarter when he has to protect the lead and he goes all conservative and simple minded. He HAS to change his ways or this will just continue when the game is on the line and we blow it.
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Re: Good article on Flores defense

Post by VikingLord »

Great analysis. Thanks for posting that!

I like Flores a lot. I think he's done a fantastic job with the talent he's been given to work with this year and can only imagine what he can do if the Vikings manage to add some talent this offseason.

My main concern is that Flores is going to be plucked for a head coaching job and could end up being the next Mike Tomlin where he gets his next team to a Superbowl while the Vikings flounder along.
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Re: Good article on Flores defense

Post by J. Kapp 11 »

chicagopurple wrote: Tue Dec 19, 2023 12:32 pm All his good ideas fly out the window in the 4th quarter when he has to protect the lead and he goes all conservative and simple minded. He HAS to change his ways or this will just continue when the game is on the line and we blow it.
I’m not sure Flores is the problem here. Yes, he did get soft in the Chicago game, which was puzzling. But there are other issues that I believe stem from personnel.

In the 2nd half of the Cincy game, when the Vikings sent 5 or 6 after the QB, the Bengals did a good job of adjusting routes to shallower stuff underneath to guys like Boyd. Their O-line also did a good job in the 2nd half, and Browning managed to escape some sacks and find guys. One time, Mixon completely whiffed on a block and sort of went, “F-it … I’ll just go out in the flat,” and Browning somehow found him. Sometimes guys just make plays.

But the real problem is one that’s been a problem for a long time … our corners just don’t play the ball well. The Bengals put up jump balls, and our corners were helpless. Same thing with Denver and others this year. How many times have we seen our corners in position to make the pick or knock it down, and they just lose? Detroit picked up on that, I guarantee you. We’ll likely see Goff take some shots on 50-50 balls because he’s pretty sure our guys won’t pick it off.

In all, I think Flores is squeezing just about every drop he can out of this orange. Bottom line is that our roster doesn’t quite match up with the best units in the league.
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