Vikings DT Clarifies What Makes Brian Flores a Brilliant Tactician

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
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Hang around TCO Performance Center for a few minutes and it won’t be difficult to find some praise for defensive coordinator Brian Flores. Count Vikings DT Harrison Phillips among those who hold Mr. Flores in high regard.

The well-respected veteran spoke with The NFL Network‘s Mike Yam recently, a conversation that involved spending some time unpacking the challenge ahead for Minnesota’s QB situation. Similarly notable, though, was Horribly Harry’s explanation about how Flores gets the defense to outperform expectations.

Vikings DT Talks Vikings DC, Praises Strategy

Under Ed Donatell, the Vikings finished in a tie for 28th in the NFL by allowing 25.1 points against per game (as Yam notes). Under Brian Flores, the Vikings finished 13th in the NFL by allowing 21.3 points against per game.

So, Flores has something figured out.

Phillips spoke to that reality, noting that his DC does a nice job of using scheme to hide some of the defense’s deficiencies: “If there were areas that we lacked talent, Coach Flores was able to find those handicaps and to cover ’em up through scheme. And you saw a lot of players have career years in this system because he doesn’t see an X and an O, he sees a person there and knows that person’s capabilities.”

Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle T.J. Smith (50) and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) tackle Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Phillips goes on to note his excitement for getting to work under Flores’ tutelage for another season.

The defensive tackle was among the Vikings players to have a career year while playing for Flores. In his sixth season, Phillips picked up a career high in tackles — 92, which demolishes the next closest total at 59 — and sacks — 3, doubling his previous career high of 1.5. He did so while starting all seventeen games for Minnesota while playing 839 snaps, the most of his career.

Phillips is moving into the final season of the three-year contract he agreed to back in 2022. He’ll carry a cap hit sitting at $8,833,334 into the ’24 season unless an extension brings the total down.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the offseason, Kevin O’Connell said a pair of things that help to flesh out the current conversation. First, he promised that Minnesota would be bringing in better defensive talent to help the DC to continue pushing the Vikings’ defense further. That promise has been fulfilled.

Second, he suggested that there’s some desire to lessen Phillips’ workload. The goal isn’t to demote a strong starter — Phillips is the Vikings’ best defensive lineman — but to keep one of the key guys fresh over the gruelling NFL season. Adding better talent to the defense helps on that front.

But while the defense as a whole is looking more formidable, the d-line still leaves reason for concern. The draft offered Levi Drake Rodriguez, but he arrived at No. 232, so it’s hard to think he can be a Year 1 difference maker. And then free agency offered options like Jerry Tillery and Jonah Williams, solid talents but not guys who will be mistaken for Chris Jones anytime soon.

Oct 16, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) poses for a photo after a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

The concern about personnel along the defensive line brings us back to Brian Flores, doesn’t it?

A great coach is capable of letting his strengths shine while minimizing the negative effects of his team’s weaknesses. Defensive tackle could be that weakness for Minnesota in 2024, so Flores will need to brew up something special in his schematic cauldron.

Harrison Phillips, 28, is a believer. Expect the veteran incumbent to play a featured role in Minnesota’s defense for the upcoming season.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap 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.