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Lunchbreak: ESPN Takes Deep Dive on Brian Flores' Innovations with Vikings Defense

EAGAN, Minn. — Since Week 4, the Vikings defense has ranked as a top 5 unit, which has helped Minnesota win six of its past nine games.

ESPN reporter Kevin Seifert expanded on how Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores crafted a unique scheme that is challenging opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks around the league.

In his first season with the Vikings, Flores has achieved a rare feat: concocting a new NFL scheme with almost no one noticing. Flores revealed in a recent ESPN interview that he incorporated a version of the defense popularized at the college level by Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi, one that combines a six-man front with versions of zone coverage behind it.

The Vikings lead the NFL in frequency of zone coverage (69 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They have also used their six-man front in ways rarely seen at the NFL level. Flores' defense has the league's highest rates — by a wide margin — in two philosophical opposites: blitzes and three-man rushes. They have more than twice as many six-man rushes as the next-most aggressive team, largely because [Josh] Metellus and [Harrison] Smith have rushed the passer more than six times the NFL average for defensive backs, and they have utilized personnel groupings that complicate the blocking schemes of offenses and reduce the "menu" of plays or formations they can use.

This novel approach required a leap of faith from [Head Coach] Kevin O'Connell, whose otherwise successful 2022 debut with the Vikings was tarnished by a passive defensive approach that former coordinator Ed Donatell refused to adjust. Flores hadn't yet decided on the specifics of his scheme when O'Connell hired him Feb. 6, but the two agreed they wanted an exceptionally aggressive style.

Flores spent last season as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach for the Steelers. In addition to Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, Flores also spent time with staffers from the University of Pittsburgh since both Pitt and the Steelers share a practice facility.

Flores said he frequently visited with Pitt assistant coach Tiquan Underwood. The pair watched film together, and Flores said he "kind of got enamored" with a portion of Narduzzi's defense that had been in use since Narduzzi took over as the defensive coordinator at Miami (Ohio) in 2003.

It began as a way to stop the run with six-man run pressures, and then to overwhelm quarterbacks if they threw against it. The front turns into a blitz in those situations, with coverages — known as "three under, two deep" or "two under, three deep" — that college quarterbacks couldn't often beat. In an interview with ESPN, Narduzzi called it a "changeup" that "has been kind of our equalizer" over the years.

Click here to read ESPN's full story on Flores.

McKinnie's Induction for College Football Hall of Fame

Vikings Legend Bryant McKinnie got a head start on Minnesota's trip to Las Vegas this week, but it wasn't false.

The tackle is set to be officially inducted tonight in the 22-member College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023 (18 First-Team All-America players and four coaches).

McKinnie and classmates that include nine other unanimous First-Team All-Americans will be recognized during the 65th National Football Foundation Annual Awards Dinner at the ARIA Resort & Casino Las Vegas.

An Outland Trophy winner and national champion with the University of Miami, McKinnie was selected with the seventh overall pick of the 2002 NFL Draft.

He started 131 of the 132 regular-season games he played for Minnesota, along with five postseason contests from 2002-10 before finishing his professional career with Baltimore and Miami.

McKinnie helped the 2012 Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII.