Vikings’ Head Coach Points Toward Strategic Change for the Defense

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Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings defense players celebrate after an interception by Vikings safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings’ head coach thinks that Brian Flores could layer in an adjusted strategy in the upcoming season.

Going into Year 2 as Minnesota’s DC, Flores is expected to keep transforming his side of the ball. The 2023 season involved going from terrible to a bit above average. Or, put differently, allowing 25.1 points against per game (28th) to 21.3 points against per game (13th). Not bad, especially since there were no shortage of injuries that needed to be overcome. What kind of change is Kevin O’Connell talking about?

Vikings’ Head Coach Points to a Strategic Change for Flores’ Defense

O’Connell is excited about a free agent addition.

Putting Shaq Griffin into the mix will help bring the defense forward: “He’s a guy that we’ve had our eye on for a while.” Not too long afterwards, O’Connell says that the new corner has “some length, got some physicality, can play at the line of scrimmage.” Griffin is listed at 6’0″, 198. Notably, he ran a 4.38 forty.

Nov 12, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Houston Texans cornerback Shaquill Griffin (0) reacts after intercepting the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

On that point about playing at the line of scrimmage, O’Connell pointed toward a potential adjustment for the defensive strategy: “Really, we want to get to a place where we can play more man coverage. We want to obviously pair our pressures with some man coverage on the backside.”

A veteran like Griffin can help, particularly since he’s someone who can offer “sticky” coverage while giving receivers “problems.”

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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

O’Connell explains that there’s a domino effect to adding Griffin since it gives Minnesota more confidence with sliding Byron Murphy into the slot. In 2023, Murphy spent 596 snaps out wide and 219 in the slot. Does the Griffin addition allow the Vikings to flip that ratio on its head?

Smart coaches do their utmost to understand their personnel and then adjust their scheme to fit within what the players are capable of doing. Flores, a smart coach, did an excellent job last season of working with the talent that was available to him. Giving him better personnel, though, will allow the DC to continue adjusting his approach in pursuit of defensive excellence.

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) celebrates his interception with safety Camryn Bynum (24) against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The basic components of a Flores defense aren’t going to change. Minnesota will still be running a 3-4 and the blitzes will still be flying off the shelf at breakneck speed. Being able to implement more man coverage will simply be one way of keeping offenses guessing about what Flores is going to do next.

Last season, Flores’ crew came in as the worst team in the NFL for completion percentage against by allowing 70.3% of passes to be completed. Driving that number down — possibly with the help of some sticky man coverage — will be a welcome development in Minnesota.

Brian Flores has a few more tricks up his sleeve, folks, so the evolution of his defense will be one of the most fascinating parts of the upcoming season.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and PFF 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.