The first part of the assignment for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell has been passed successfully. The Vikings brain trust has hired Brian Flores for the vacant defensive coordinator position, and this move means that the team has a chance to improve significantly on defense next season.
Flores was a defensive assistant for the Steelers last season, a position he took after serving as the Dolphins head coach for three seasons. Prior to that, he was one of Bill Belichick’s most trusted coaches with the Patriots.
Make no mistake about it, they are a long way from putting a nasty and consistent defense on the field, but when it comes down to defensive coordinators, the Vikings were in a win or lose position. If they had not hired Flores, they would have been left with Mike Pettine, and that certainly would have been a loss for the team
Pettine is not the right man to rebuild a defense. It takes vision, leadership, strength and an ability to make adjustments. Perhaps Pettine can make a case for strength, but the other characteristics are absent from his make-up.
Flores has an understanding of how to build a defense from the ground up, and make no mistake about it, that’s what the Vikings need to do. The failures of the 2022 season was not a new problem. They have ranked with the most porous defenses in the league for the last 3 seasons, and it’s not accurate to say that former defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was solely to blame.
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The Vikings defense has been a passive unit for years, and Donatell was from the bend-but-don’t-break school. He probably looked at the personnel and films from previous years and came to the conclusion that there was no way he could build an aggressive and dynamic defense that intimidated the opposition on an every-week basis.
A logical conclusion, but one that did not help the Vikings cause. The only way that a defense can be consistently successful in the NFL is if it creates big plays through pressure. In other words, they have to win individual battles by simply demonstrating superiority. When it comes to line play, defensive linemen have to create an air of intimidation that leaves their opponent with a sense of hopelessness.
After getting beaten play after play, the opposing offensive lineman knows that he just can’t keep up and a big play is coming sooner or later. The defensive lineman takes all reasonable hope away from his opposite number. Think of Aaron Donald or Von Miller – that’s exactly how they succeed.
The belief here is that Flores can coach in that style. Now, are players like Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith capable playing in that manner and dominating? They certainly were capable in the past, but there are no guarantees that they still have that kind of ability.
Hunter was a monster when he registered 14.5 sacks in both 2018 and 2019, but he was slowed by injuries in the two seasons that followed. He was healthy last year and came through with 10.5 sacks, but there’s a big difference between putting decent numbers on the board and playing relentlessly on an every-week basis.
Smith had 10.0 sacks, but most of his productivity came at the start of the season. He was not as effective in the second half of the season.
Flores will need to assess every player on the defense and give his unclouded opinion on what he saw on tape and what he thinks each player is capable of doing in 2023.
It seems unlikely that he will find much that he likes, but he has to find at least a few players that he can work with and mold.
As much as the defense needs to rebuild, there are not going to be 11 new starters next year. It just doesn’t work that way. Could there be rive or six new starters? It’s possible, but three of four seems a more likely number.
The personnel on defense remains the issue, but at least they have the right man leading the unit. It could have been Pettine, and that would have been a poor alternative. Flores is smart, aggressive and something of a visionary. It’s a solid start for a team that needs significant help.