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Monday Morning Mailbag: Brian Flores' Introduction & Vikings Run Game

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Hopefully everyone has been able to catch the introductory press conference for Brian Flores. I thought he spoke with a comfortable earnestness built on a confidence that this is the right place for him and that he will be able to help the team improve the defense.

On the same day as Flores' introduction, the Vikings Entertainment Network was able to host two groups of season ticket members at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for special screenings of the first episode of "The Voyage," the acclaimed docuseries put together by several colleagues.

A link to the first of four episodes is being sent to Season Ticket Members today, and it will be available to all on YouTube, and in the Vikings app beginning Tuesday. New this year, episodes will air in the Twin Cities each of the next four weeks on FOX 9 KMSP (10:30 p.m. Wednesdays).

Lastly, a quick shoutout to colleague Tatum Everett for scoring four points in her Initials Game debut on KFAN 100.3-FM last Friday.

On to the questions, which I'll lead off with some thoughts sent by Jackson C., who was among those that watched Flores' press conference.

I think Brian's visions for the defense are exactly what this team needs in order to solidify themselves as top contenders. He seemed very confident in the ability of both young players and veterans on the defense, as well as in the ability of our front office. With the right offseason, I think this staff and roster is very capable of putting together a deep playoff run. I have tons of hope for the future of this team.

— Jackson C.

One of the things I hope to cover more in depth is how Flores' background work in the Patriots personnel department (his first four seasons with New England) has informed his approach to building a defense. The Patriots have excelled under Bill Belichick at finding correct fits for what they want to do, and Belichick has won in so many different ways over the years. Flores' four years in personnel ought to help conversations with the Vikings personnel department as they work together on building the roster this year and beyond.

Brian Flores is a great DC, if he and the defense has a fantastic year, is he just going to walk away after one or two seasons to a head coaching job, how long will his contract be?

— Brad Stacy in Port Charlotte, Florida (DIEHARD VIKING FAN)

This topic was approached when Flores was a candidate for the job. It's kind of a double-edged sword, right? Achieving a certain level of success causes other teams to try to replicate it, either by adopting something they see on tape or hiring a coach.

The Vikings didn't announce the length of the contract, but Flores explained with sincerity his view of this opportunity, which he accepted after removing his name from consideration for the Arizona head coaching job, which went to former Vikings assistant Jonathan Gannon.

"You almost get a gut feeling. I think we've all kind of had those, that this was the place for me and my family. This was the right opportunity," Flores said. "It's funny. I was in church a couple weeks ago as this was all going on, and the pastor, Brian Edmonton, in Pittsburgh, he said, 'In life there are instances where you can either have control or you can have growth. And you can't have both.' That hit me pretty good. I just felt like this was a great opportunity for growth."

He added that he is focused on where his feet are.

"I think any other opportunities that may present themselves in the future, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Obviously, I have goals and things that I would like to accomplish in the future, but those can change. I'm happy right now in Minnesota, I really am. I'm happy here with Kevin, and this opportunity is something that I'm overjoyed to be a part of this organization."

Are we going to change to a 4-3 instead of a 3-4?

— Philip Patterson

I just hope he doesn't run the 3-4 defense.

— Joseph Tilley

Congrats to Mr. Flores.

I sure hope that he goes back to the 4-3 defense. I always thought that the 3-4 was wasting Danielle Hunter's expertise.

— Bill Gagnon in San Jose, California

There were so many topics of discussion during Flores' introductory press conference, that the 4-3 vs. 3-4 question wound up being a buzzer beater at the end of the session.

Flores answered the question with, "Who are we playing? It's game-plan specific, but it's 3-4."

It's still really early in the process and a couple of months before Flores starts working on the field with the players during Organized Team Activity practices.

I guess for now, we can keep in mind that not all 4-3 nor 3-4 bases are created equal.

Philosophical differences (blitz vs. dropping into coverage/man vs. zone/deployment of specific players) can vary.

Hunter is the type of player any coordinator should want to maximize, but he's not the only potential difference maker. He closed the season well.

We pointed out recently how infrequently the 2022 Vikings were in their 3-4 base (roughly 20 percent). If you missed last week’s Mailbag, we took a deeper look at Flores' track record in his first season as a defensive play caller (2018 with New England), head coach with Miami (2019-21) and assistant with Pittsburgh (2022). Higher blitz rates than what you saw from the Vikings last season are a reasonable expectation.

"Aggressive" or "aggressiveness" showed up seven times in the full transcript from the press conference in response to a question.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said: "Not every scenario and situation is the same, and I think he's learned this term that he used called 'weighty downs' – I think he learned it maybe from [Steelers Head Coach] Mike [Tomlin], but those critical downs where the ability of a coordinator, with the experience that B-Flo has, to apply pressure to the offense in a lot of different ways. And that can look a lot of different ways week-in and week-out.

" 'What are the things we want to do to maximize our guys' chances of success while also, in some cases mitigating risk, but making sure that in the end, the aggressive mindset of our football philosophy, that I came in here – funny enough, one year ago today – and introduced, it was a football philosophy?' It was not an offensive philosophy," O'Connell added. "It was not any other aspect than all 53 guys – our entire roster – coming together, led by us as coaches, to play the game that we envision playing and staying true to that philosophy in a way where our players live it, they breathe it, and when they get out on the field, they're flying around playing fast because they've got that confidence in what we're trying to do."

Flores added: "I'm aggressive by nature. Philosophically, that's something I believe in. I think Kev' alluded to. From what I recall, I left [the job interview] feeling like there was shared vision. He's aggressive offensively. I'm aggressive defensively. That kind of philosophy was aligned – that's probably the best word to use.

"So, just to answer your question, yeah, I abide by nature. I like to be aggressive. Again, not reckless – there's a method to the madness. There's a rhyme and reason, whether it's down and distance, field goal position, etc," Flores continued. "But, I think it's not about me or Kev'. It's about the players. It's about their ability to execute. It's about our ability to teach and coach and put them in the right positions and get them doing things we think they can execute. And we'll do our very best to do that. But, yes, by nature I like to play an aggressive style."

View photos of Brian Flores during his first day as Vikings Defensive Coordinator at TCO Performance Center on Feb. 15.

First statement, can we stop running single-back plays unless it's a draw play please! I really think that if we have Dalvin Cook back on the roster, we need to run him with a two-back scheme or with a fullback leading the way. It looked too obvious knowing he would run the ball each time. Defense knew it was coming.

Second statement, we need a true identity on offense. I don't know what we are! Sometimes were running the ball excessively, and other times were throwing ridiculously. We have a chance of being a good balance team when we utilize every player! We really need to use Ty Chandler and Cook back-to-back like Green Bay does, and it will wear down a defense, then open up the throw. Stop giving Cook 25 carries. Start doing a two-back tandem so he can last and be good to go in the playoffs. Sometimes I didn't even know if [Alexander] Mattison got a chance to touch the rock. We had too much talent on offense to go down the field in the first quarter and [not do] anything in the second quarter. It comes down to play calling!

— Corey Alexander in Richmond, Virginia

A couple of conversation-starters from Corey here about the backfield and run game.

I think Cook has earned and gets the premier treatment from opposing defenses, meaning they're usually primed to do their very best to limit his impact.

He made teams pay multiple times in 2022 with long touchdown runs at Miami and Buffalo, as well as his 64-yard catch-and-run against the Colts.

Coaches appreciated the way Mattison allowed them to run the entire offense when he spelled Cook, but he rushed a career-low 74 times (down from 134 in 2021). I think it's possible that the running game is continuing to evolve and find its place in an offense that tilted to be pass heavy.

A curiosity I have is whether a change-of-pace element can be mixed into the run game, whether it's Chandler as proposed by Corey or someone else.

Personnel groupings can be used by the offense to try to dictate a response by the defense and in turn create mismatches.

Question: I've been feeling some of the same frustrations as y'all concerning our short-yardage success on offense. It makes me curious why we're not utilizing C.J. Ham more. He's a bulldozer and a decent deceptive tool, given his versatility. I also recall how well the Vikes utilized [Jerome] Felton during the [Adrian Peterson] era. What's your take on C.J. in our scheme right now, and is he indeed being used less now than in previous seasons — perhaps when we could've used him most?


— Steven in Nashville, Tennessee

Hello to Steven and the rest of the Vikes fans in my home state.

Ham is another player whose offensive workload diminished in 2022. His 169 snaps on offense were the second-fewest of his career (trailing only 139 in 2018 with John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator) and down from 376 in 2021.

He still contributed mightily to the success of the team with an increased role on special teams and by serving as that group's season-long captain.

A former running back in college, Ham's 250 pounds could perhaps be used on a couple of carries to again give the defenses something else to worry about/a different style of runner to stop. What if he lined up at tailback on a play Peterson style, just running through the handoff and picking up steam?

There have been a couple of quicker gives to him in short yardage.

One of the most important components of improving consistency with short-yardage plays will be the ability to redefine the line of scrimmage.

Glad to come back to the Mailbag. Fan since the beginning!!! I believe after watching the Super Bowl with all my Vikings fans, that the Vikings offense should put the Eagles short-yardage play in in their playbook. I never did see why any team could not get 1 to 2 yards with the other players able to punch the QB forward for the first down. This is very important to us looking back at all of our short-yardage offensive woes. I know this is only one piece, but it looks to me an important one for us. SKOL VIKES!!!

— Steven Cleary

Welcome back. I appreciate the continued conversations and taking a look at what's going on around the NFL.

Philadelphia's success on the sneaks — I don't think Jalen Hurts has ever skipped a leg day in the weight room — was great execution, and I'd expect some of the methods will either make their way into other teams' playbooks by next fall if not eliminated by the NFL’s Competition Committee this spring, as noted by The 33rd Team's Paul Domowitch. The play will probably be discussed at the Annual League Meeting.

Every year at this time fans want to look at their team and see how it could improve the next year based on what they watched during the big game. For me, it's the same almost every year: offensive and defensive line play. The Vikings have to invest, especially in the interior of these lines in order to get to the big game. Getting way under the cap and getting rid of older players for me would be the way I would like to see them go. Not only to re-sign J.J. but also to get a guy like Daron Payne in free agency. This is not a one-year fix, but to me, it's a nice start.

— Duane Miller

For all of the shiny objects and brilliant schemes and the beautiful flight paths of "The Duke" as it spirals, football is still going to hinge on blocking and tackling.

It was true when the game was created. It remained fact when I was in high school and was then speaking with a former coach who had guided my third-through-sixth grade YMCA basketball team (R.I.P., Coach Max), and it is still fundamentally true against the stats-hyper fantasy football backdrop.

As a direct employee, I can't weigh in on players who are under contract with other teams, but I will say it looked like Payne played well against Minnesota last season. The former first-rounder just completed his fifth season with Washington and is on track to become a free agent.

The Vikings have dedicated considerable draft capital to the offensive line over the past few years and relied on free agency for their defensive line. Dalvin Tomlinson was one such addition who has played well since arriving in 2021. It was a year after signing Michael Pierce didn't work and a year before Harrison Phillips joined Minnesota.

View exclusive black-and-white photos shot of Vikings players during the 2022-23 season by team photographer, Andy Kenutis.

Why do you think Jim Marshall is not in Canton?

With today's salary structure, do you think Eller, Larsen, Page, Marshall, Yary, Alderman, White, Sunde, and Tingelhoff — '74 Super Bowl starters — could all be affordable for a 2023 hypothetical Vikings team?

— Patrick Muller in Hills, Iowa

Few things in the football landscape have disappointed me more than Jim Marshall not yet having a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I've had the privilege to cover the enshrinements of Mick Tingelhoff and Steve Hutchinson. Both of those greats absolutely deserve their spots in Canton, and it's been such an honor to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in those years. But it will remain incomplete and imperfect in my book without Capt. Jim.

Bud Grant recently participated in a night at the Vikings Museum, and he was asked about it. Bud said part of the problem was that the national audience didn't get to see Jim play too often.

Perhaps if they had seen some of the other iconic plays, or the fact that he was there every game, they would have had a deeper appreciation for that. Going 0-for-4 in Super Bowls didn't help, but we've seen some other players who never made it to a Super Bowl inducted in recent years, and the accomplishments of those players are not far-and-away beyond Jim's.

Another caveat is sacks did not become an official stat until the 1982 season. went back and tallied sacks from Jim's era, which spanned the entirety of two decades in the NFL.

Simply put, one-fifth of the NFL's first 100 years are not nearly as enriched without Jim Marshall. The entire sport and Vikings history have a far-reduced legacy without Jim Marshall.

As for the second part, it's a completely different sports landscape nearly 50 years after that time period. It's kind of hard to imagine being able to keep the whole band together.

View home and away photos of the Vikings 2023 regular season schedule.

I see the salary cap went up $16 million if I'm correct? How does this factor in on being $20 million over the cap and personnel decisions for the upcoming offseason?

— Josh in Owatonna, Minnesota (lifelong fan since 1987)

The salary cap for 2023 has been reported at $224.8 million, showing a nice rebound from the revenue reduction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vikings have some work to do to fit under the cap while positioning the roster to make a run at consecutive postseason trips for the first time since 2008-09.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah didn't sound too concerned about cap space when he participated in the end-of-season press conference with O'Connell.

I thought this piece was pretty interesting regarding salary cap if anyone would like some bonus reading.

Why do you not see more facemask penalties called on the offense when the ball carrier grabs the tackler's mask? I know a ball carrier can use the stiff-arm to separate himself from the tackler, but it seems they have way more leeway than the tackler.

— Rick Swanson

Each summer, the NFL usually sends officiating crews to every team's training camp for a couple of days. The officials often conduct a meeting with media members to discuss new rules and points of emphasis. I don't recall either of the plays mentioned in any of those meetings, so they probably aren't as high priority.

There's so much for officials to be on the lookout for every week in a game that seems to increase its speed every year. That particular interaction with a ball carrier and tackler can happen on a moment's notice, and there could be a bit of gray area sometimes between a stiff-arm and an illegal facemask penalty by the ball carrier.

That's a couple of paragraphs for me to fess up that I don't have a better answer for you right now, but that's my best guess.

I have been a Minnesota Vikings fan since they lost the Super Bowl to the Kansas City Chiefs. I live in Philadelphia. I worked for Nabisco for 35 years, so you know what I went through over my career. The Vikings need a motivation coach.

Next year, get in touch with me.

— Barry Irving

I'm sure you've fought the good fight over the years, particularly leading up to and in the aftermath of games between the Vikings and Eagles. It seems that Philadelphia has never been a good place for Minnesota to go after riding high.

You are more than welcome to send in your rally speech before that game next season, and I'll see what I can do to share it—at least with fans.