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Happy day after Super Bowl LVII and congratulations to the Chiefs and former Vikings Jerick McKinnon, Blake Bell and Ihmir Smith-Marsette for winning it all. I was able to get to know McKinnon the most between the three, as his rookie year was also my first season with the Vikings. He made the savvy and unselfish play of giving himself up shy of the goal line to wrap the victory.
One thing I couldn't shake in the past week is that the Colts defeated the Chiefs back in Week 3 before eventually firing their head coach and led the Eagles 16-10 with 4:37 remaining before allowing an 11-play touchdown drive in 3:17 in Jeff Saturday's second game as interim head coach. Just another reminder of how close NFL teams can play. Plus, it's not like the Vikings Nation can be that bothered by the Colts allowing a comeback, right?
View photos of new Vikings Defensive Coordinator, Brian Flores. The team announced the hiring on Feb. 6, 2023.
Anyways, although the Vikings have already been working to advance further than they did this past season, there's something about reaching a moment of closure for the NFL season, even if it is just two weeks teams descend on Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine.
That work so far includes the hire of Brian Flores as defensive coordinator, plus the evaluation time spent on prospects at the Reese's Senior Bowl and other college all-star games by the personnel department.
Welcome to Minnesota, Coach Flores.
Major congrats are in order for Justin Jefferson, who was named Offensive Player of the Year and also recognized when his catch at Buffalo was chosen as the Next Gen Stats Moment of the Year. Despite all of his successes, Jefferson has been just as grounded in his approach. Take Carl Eller's word for it:
Also, a tip of the cap to Kirk Cousins, who was recognized Saturday at the Super Bowl Breakfast and presented the Bart Starr Award. We previously wrote about the significance of the award to Cousins, which is increased dramatically because of his respect for Starr, and plan to have more on that this week on Vikings.com. Cousins also utilized his singing talent last week on stage with Kelly Clarkson.
View photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins singing on stage with NFL Honors host Kelly Clarkson.
Lastly, happy early Vikings anniversary to Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, who became head coach on Feb. 16, 2022.
Are the Vikings going to introduce Brian Flores at a press conference? I would like to hear what he has to say.
— Jeff S. in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin
A lot can happen in a week, particularly when it's the week of the Super Bowl. When we posted last week's Mailbag, the Vikings had not yet finalized the deal with Flores. We posted the news story once we were able to, along with 5 Things about him as a brief introduction.
The answer is yes, there is a plan to introduce Flores at a press conference. As of this writing, a day and time have not been set, but we'll be sure to let you know and plan to stream it live, then recap it multiple ways.
Jeff isn't the only one looking forward to hearing what Flores says in his introduction. I'm also looking forward to it, and I'm sure many of you are as well.
Has anyone asked Kevin O'Connell if there is a preference that he likes a 3-4 versus a 4-3? I know 70 percent of the time most defenses are in nickel anyway, however, is it more of what he's just comfortable with the coach that he's working with and that he is willing to go with that defensive coordinator's philosophy? Or is it he's more of a 3-4 head coach?
— Duane Miller
I'm just wondering how you would compare [Ed] Donatell to [Brian] Flores as far as coaching philosophy. Do you believe he will run a 3-4 or a 4-3? Do you think we will see more blitzing? How will he approach passing defense? Will he play more man or zone? What are your thoughts? Congratulations to Justin Jefferson for winning Offensive Player of the Year. [Rick] Spielman hit a grand slam with that selection.
— David Bond in Byron, Minnesota
With our current defensive players do you think we are best suited for 3-4 or 4-3 defense?
— Sherry Clark
Hello from Germany,
I'm gonna start right away and say I really like our new DC. In my opinion, he was a great coach in Miami, and from what I heard, he was well respected and liked in Pittsburgh as well. But more important for me is his background in scouting.
For me, our biggest problem last year wasn't our base scheme or the "bend but don't break" approach. In my opinion the problem was that we tried to fit all of our personnel into one specific scheme. Soft coverage, high safeties and pressure from the edges. After the fifth game, it was obvious that our corners and linebackers couldn't cover well enough in this system.
We got pressure on the QBs well enough, but if every WR can run his route undisturbed and is open after 2 seconds, the pressure won't affect the QB enough to [force] mistakes. At least not on an NFL level of play. Why did we never press and try to disrupt the opponents timing? Why not try to help Danielle Hunter by utilizing him as a DE more often? (He was clearly more comfortable than as an OLB).
Why didn't we use Harrison Smith even more to disguise looks or blitz a couple more times? For me, it looked like we wanted to play one kind of defense and though we had some variety of that same scheme, we didn't really switch it up to help different personnel. I don't see how anyone can expect his third or fourth corner to play the same as the No. 1 corner.
So yeah, long story short: I do hope and do believe Flores, with his coaching background especially, will help our defense just by looking more at our players' strengths. I don't really care what scheme we are playing, I believe we can win regardless of that.
Stay healthy everyone and SKOL!
— Alexander Markhart in Germany
Why is the Vikings defense playing so soft? Why aren't they reading the quarterback's eyes and responding as he starts his motion?
Maybe they should watch some tape of the other teams that play a tighter defense. ... Thanks for listening.
— Dave Corey in Aitkin, Minnesota
Brian Flores, I believe this is a great hire as DC for the Vikes. Now I only hope that Coach O'Connell will employ time management on offense to control the clock and dictate how the opposition will attack in order for Coach Flores to be successful. Your view?
— Nicholas Balkou
Grouping all of these here because of the overlap.
There were a few times over the course of the year when O'Connell and Donatell were asked about the 3-4 versus the 4-3, and they usually downplayed it a bit and pointed to the frequency of being in the nickel.
According to Next Gen Stats, the Vikings were in the nickel (five defensive backs) for 897 plays (80.4 percent of the team's 1,116 plays).
Minnesota utilized its base defense on 197 plays (17.7 percent) and six defensive backs on 13 plays (1.2 percent) in the regular season. Perhaps the latter would have been more if the Vikings hadn't had so many injuries in the secondary?
I don't want to speak ahead of Flores before he has the opportunity to do so, but we can take a look back and some interesting stat comparisons from the past several years.
2022 Vikings (under Donatell): 1,116 defensive plays, 21.2% blitz rate (139 plays), 25.8% pressure rate (169 plays), 12.7% hurry rate (83 plays); 38 sacks, 25 takeaways, 38.1% conversion rate by opponents on third down
2022 Steelers (Flores as LB coach): 1,024 defensive plays, 29.0% blitz rate (169 plays), 26.1% pressure rate (152 plays), 12.7% hurry rate (74 plays); 40 sacks, 23 takeaways, 39.4% conversion rate by opponents by opponents on third down
2021 Dolphins (Flores as head coach): 1,080 defensive plays, 39.5% blitz rate (259 plays), 30.3% pressure rate (199 plays), 16.2% hurry rate (106 plays); 47 sacks, 23 takeaways, 39.4% conversion rate by opponents on third down
2020 Dolphins (Flores as head coach): 998 defensive plays, 40.8% blitz rate (239 plays), 27.8% pressure rate (163 plays), 13.7% hurry rate (80 plays); 41 sacks, 29 takeaways, 31.2% conversion rate by opponents on third down
2019 Dolphins (Flores as head coach): 1,052 defensive plays, 30.5% blitz rate (173 plays), 25.2% pressure rate (143 plays), 14.1% hurry rate (80 plays); 23 sacks, 16 takeaways, 41.8% conversion rate by opponents on third down
2018 Patriots (Flores as LB coach and in first year as defensive play caller): 1,002 defensive plays, 32.8% blitz rate (208 plays), 27.7% pressure rate (176 plays), 14.8% hurry rate (94 plays); 30 sacks, 28 takeaways, 38.6% conversion rate by opponents on third down
Sorry for the truckload of stats, but we are in the information age. A few thoughts from all of that.
The initial thing that will jump out is the number of plays by the Vikings defense exceeding that of the Steelers by nearly 100. Only the 2021 and 2202 seasons featured a 17th regular-season game, so those snaps should be higher, and that's with a couple fewer sacks (the Steelers probably would have had more if not for T.J. Watt missing so much time) and a slightly higher conversion rate allowed (could have been stingier with Watt for a full season).
Connected to Nicholas' point, the Steelers ran the football 500 times and attempted 571 passes, compared to 404 rushes and 672 pass attempts by Minnesota. Running and converting (or stacking completions with passes that end in bounds) can really help impact time of possession and reduce snaps faced by the defense over the course of a season.
The undercurrent is everyone is trying to accomplish similar goals: sack the quarterback, create takeaways and get off the field on third down. Those are consistently three of the biggest factors in leaving a stadium with the desired outcome, but the approach can be quite different.
Deployment of defenders, tactics, personnel and aggressiveness can be harder to quantify than just 3-4 vs. 4-3 alignment. Flores has experience with both, by the way.
Without projecting how Flores might guide the Vikings defense, there does appear to be a history of blitzing at higher rates than Minnesota did last season. There also has been a much higher frequency of utilizing six defensive backs.
Dave and Alexander both used the worst four-letter word for a defense: "soft."
That's their word; not mine, first of all, but the fact that viewpoints align among fans means there's room for the Vikings to become more dominant and attacking on that side of the football.
We'll find out more about Flores' plans soon enough, but I'd fully expect him to try to make the most of the roster and find ways to attack in 2023.
Just wondering how [Andrew] Booth, Jr., and [Akayleb] Evans will fit into the new defensive scheme? Do they fit well, or will the Vikings have to yet again rebuild their cornerbacks room?
— Brian in Pierre, South Dakota
Both players showed signs of potential and things to be excited about before injuries sidelined Booth (a second-round pick) and Evans (a potential fourth-round find). Both are under contract for the next three seasons, so it would probably be helpful for them to fit within the plan.
Some mock drafts — it's still really early — have projected cornerback as the choice for Minnesota in the first round.
You asked what we thought of this year's Pro Bowl. We'll, just like the prior 20 Pro Bowls, I slept through most of this year's events.
The folks in charge might as well have the two top Madden players play vs each other with the selected year's Pro Bowl roster. The flag game was a joke-filled, poorly officiated disaster.
But a fantastic sleeping pill.
A note on last week's Mailbag and all the fans calling for pass rushers. A great DC (Brian Flores please) can scheme up a pass rush. But no DC can protect bad DBs via scheme.
Draft press corners, a slew of safeties that can be moved up to linebacker. Stick with the 3-4 ... and Flores will turn this defense around quickly.
As always, thank you for your time.
— "Vic King" in Idaho
Appreciate you replying to the all-call for comments on the Pro Bowl. I felt it was more interesting to see the helmet-off interactions and a genuine flag football game instead of the pseudo-tackle game in full pads.
I do wonder if they'll continue to do replacements with Pro Bowl alternates for injuries and players on teams who advance to the Super Bowl, but everyone on the field was an NFL player.
I personally think it says a lot about how good and important every regular season NFL game can be, that when reducing the intensity, there's such a drop-off compared to what we enjoy in a season.
Other leagues can play a little less defense without as much departure from the standard. Other sports also can show individual exceptionality a little bit better in an all-star game than the ultimate team sport.
I wanted to know your thoughts about how much the departure of coach Andre Patterson may or may not have affected the performance of the D-line this season?
— Keith H. in Baltimore
Well, first off, I appreciated the opportunity to get to know Coach Dre, beginning in 2014.
Dexter Lawrence's skill and strength, combined with Patterson's expertise, should pose problems for offenses for quite some time.
Off the field, I sincerely appreciated the opportunity I was offered in February 2020 to moderate panel discussions featuring Patterson, Eller and Alan Page with students at the Vikings History Museum for Black History Month.
I thought Chris Rumph did a good job in his first season as Minnesota's defensive line coach. That group and the front seven seemed to be making some real strides together before the Dalvin Tomlinson injury. Harrison Phillips made a nice impact in his first season, and Minnesota's rotation got some productive moments from other players during a transitional year.
View the best photos of Vikings WR Justin Jefferson during the 2022 season.
Are you planning on re-signing Justin Jefferson?
— Miles Koeneman
J.J. doesn't break the records he has with Teddy [Bridgewater] or Case [Keenum] as his QB. That's it. That's the email.
— Darcy Raguse in Aurora, Colorado
We'll close here with this juxtaposition. Based on everything said by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell in their end of season, it sounds like the long-term plans of the franchise include an eventual extension for Jefferson.
The phenom has been a great teammate — so I'm not quite sure of Darcy's email. It's not like Jefferson is saying he's the only reason a pass play has had success with him on the receiving end time and time again.
Justin Jefferson was awarded the 2022 AP Offensive Player of the Year award during NFL Honors.
Does he get more opportunities because of O'Connell's shift to prioritizing the passing game? Probably. Is he able to stack more numbers with Cousins throwing him the ball instead of any prior Vikings QB? Possibly.
Bridgewater did pretty well against Minnesota while playing through an injury in Week 6. Was the Minneapolis Miracle exclusively Stefon Diggs? Nope, Keenum put the right amount of air under the ball.
It seems like Jefferson and Cousins took another great step forward together this year and neither appears interested in an "it's me, not we" philosophy.