Brian Flores Has Accomplished the Goal, but He Now Needs to Surpass It

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Average. That was the hope from the purple masses. Three straight seasons of defensive drudgery meant people in Minnesota wanted to see the Vikings’ defense get into NFL average.

As of right now, the Vikings have arrived. Brian Flores, the new defensive coordinator, deserves a pile of credit. He has transformed a horrendous 2022 group, largely by rejuvenating veterans who played poorly last season and by developing several of the youngsters. And, let’s not forget, he has done so without the help of one of his main weapons, edge rusher Marcus Davenport.

The unfortunate reality is that the loss of Kirk Cousins will mean more of the onus shifts to the defense. Can Flores get his group to respond?

Brian Flores Needs to Get His Defense Even Higher

Mike Zimmer is a strong defensive coach. Some may even call him a great defensive coach. His final couple seasons, though, didn’t meet the usual standard.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer waves to the crowd after the game against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, no one in the Twin Cities will need to be reminded about how things went under Ed Donatell. Somehow, the Vikings’ defense got even worse, tumbling further into irrelevance as Vic Fangio’s disciple failed to get his side of the ball into respectability.

Take a look at the previous trio of seasons and the points against:

  • 2020: 29.7 PA/G, 29th in the NFL
  • 2021: 25.1 PA/G, 24th in the NFL
  • 2022: 25.1 PA/G, 28th in the NFL

Fast forward to the halfway mark in 2023 and things are looking considerably better. Minnesota’s rebuilding defense sits at 20.3 points against per game, 15th in the NFL. By that metric alone, the Vikings have a slightly above-average defense.

Holding that pattern would mean the 2023 season was a humongous success for Mr. Flores. The man was given ingredients that most thought were below average and he has cooked up an above-average meal. What else can a fanbase ask of its coaches but to get the players to outperform expectations?

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell looks on before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into 2023, the hope was that the Vikings’ offense could soar into elite territory. Anything less than being a top 10 team — or perhaps even top 5 — would likely mean Minnesota struggles. After all, the defense was going into a rebuilding phase, stripped down to some specific veterans and then a pile of youngsters.

What’s been so impressive, though, is the emergence of several key players. After eight games, Camryn Bynum looks like one of the NFL’s top safeties. He’s sitting on 76 tackles a year after only picking up 81 tackles during the entire season. Oh, and he has already matched or surpassed several of last season’s statistical totals by picking up a pair of INTs, 6 passes defended, a forced fumble, and a pair of TFLs.

Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) celebrate a fumble recovery against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

And what about Jordan Hicks? A year after blitzing just 17 times, the veteran linebacker is already up to 66 blitzes. Flores knows that his linebacker is a thumper who thrives due to high physicality, compete, and brains. Letting Hicks come forward make so much sense and yet it didn’t happen nearly enough last season.

Danielle Hunter, perhaps partly due to playing in a contract year, leads the NFL in sacks and TFLs. Harrison Phillips has been a stubbornly effective run defender and so too has Jonathan Bullard. Akayleb Evans is looking like a long-term CB2 and Josh Metellus has finally been given the significant role on defense he so clearly deserves.

Syndication: Stevens Point Journal
Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) does a Thriller zombie dance after intercepting a pass against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, October 29, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Vikings won the game, 24-10.

Overcoming the loss of Kirk Cousins is a Herculean task, a feat that will likely be too much for the Vikings to overcome. The QB1 was playing like an All Pro, a distinction he could have secured for the first time in his career if he had continued to match his level of play for November and December.

Flores knows that losing Cousins is a major deal. He described it as a “huge loss” for the Vikings before saying that he has “a great deal of respect for Kirk.” Per the DC, losing the QB1 will be felt “across the team.”

Indeed, losing the starting quarterback will make Sundays far more challenging for the defense. Bad offense directly feeds into bad defense. Field position matters, and so too does momentum and feeling encouraged by the confidence that can emanate from knowing the offense can pile up points.

In other words, Brian Flores will need to get his defense to play even better. No small feat, and yet the DC has been overcoming expectations since taking over as the DC in Minnesota.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.