Vikings

Can Flores Do For Minnesota’s Defense What Daboll Did With the Giants’ Offense Last Year?

Photo Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past three seasons, the Minnesota Vikings have been one of the worst defenses in the entire NFL. New defensive coordinator Brian Flores is inheriting a unit that has ranked near the bottom of the league in the four most critical areas. Whether it’s points, total yards, passing yards, or rushing yards allowed, opposing offenses have had their way with carving up this unit with alarming frequency.

Here’s how the Vikings have ranked in all four metrics in each of the past three seasons:

  • 2022
    • 28th in points allowed
    • 31st in yards allowed
    • 31st in passing yards allowed
    • 20th in rushing yards allowed
  • 2021
    • 24th in points allowed
    • 30th in yards allowed
    • 28th in passing yards allowed
    • 26th in rushing yards allowed
  • 2020
    • 29th in points allowed
    • 27th in yards allowed
    • 25th in passing yards allowed
    • 27th in rushing yards allowed

And if you combine all of the past three seasons, the Vikings find themselves ranked:

  • 29th in points allowed
  • 30th in yards allowed
  • 31st in passing yards allowed
  • 26th in rushing yards allowed

Coach Flo certainly has his work cut out for him, eh? Following an offseason with what appeared to be an intentional plan of adding an influx of youth after parting ways with aging veterans such as Eric Kendricks, Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Patrick Peterson, is it reasonable to expect drastically different results with a younger defense?

The 2023 Vikings’ defense finds itself in an eerily similar position as the New York Giants’ offense from a year ago. After three-straight abysmal seasons where the Giants were near the bottom of the league in every major offensive category, New York tasked first-year head coach Brian Daboll and first-year offensive coordinator Mike Kafka with what seemed to be an impossible mission in Year 1: make this Giants’ offense tolerable.

I can assure you, absolutely no one expected Daboll and Kafka to succeed at this time a year ago in their debut season together. After all, the Giants’ offense from 2019 to 2021 looked awfully similar as the Vikings’ defense since 2020. Especially when you consider that even though Daboll was the play-caller for the Bills, he was handing those responsibilities with the Giants over to a relative unknown in Kafka.

Here’s how New York’s offense fared from 2019 to 2021 under Pat Shurmur, Jason Garrett, and Freddie Kitchens as their play callers:

  • 2021
    • 31st in points
    • 31st in total yards
    • 31st in passing yards
    • 24th in rushing yards
  • 2020
    • 31st in points
    • 31st in yards
    • 29th in passing yards
    • 19th in rushing yards
  • 2019
    • 18th in points
    • 23rd in yards
    • 18th in passing yards
    • 19th in rushing yards

Similar to the present-day Vikings’ defense, aside from Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith, Daboll and Kafka inherited a Giants’ offense that was devoid of serious talent other than running back Saquon Barkley. However, two coaches that achieved success in their respective roles with two of the best offenses in the league with the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs found a way to overcome these talent deficiencies in New York.

Did the 2022 Giants’ offense look anything remotely similar stylistically to the Bills and Chiefs when Daboll and Kafka were on those coaching staffs? Absolutely not. Instead, those two looked themselves in the mirror and were honest about what needed to be done to put their team in a position to win games. And that was playing ball-control, mistake-free football with an offense that wouldn’t be the reason why they continuously lost games in their inaugural season together.

Here’s how the Giants’ offense fared in 2022 with Daboll and Kafka:

  • 2022
    • 15th in points
    • 18th in yards
    • 26th in passing yards
    • 4th in rushing yards
    • 2nd in turnovers

Not exactly gaudy offensive production. But by effectively running the football and limiting turnovers, the Giants were in a position to win seemingly every single week — as evidenced by 13 of their 17 regular-season games being of the one-score variety. The Giants went 8-4-1 in 13 one-score games.

Brian Flores and the 2023 Vikings’ defense would be best served to take a page out of Daboll and Kafka’s playbook. First and foremost, by determining a way for this unit to not be the reason why Minnesota loses games. If Flo’s defensive unit can replicate the same middling production of Daboll and Kafka’s offense with the Giants last season, that would be an overwhelming success in Year 1 with him as the defensive coordinator.

But like Daboll and Kafka with the Giants last year, just because Flores won with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots by playing a certain style defensively, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this Vikings defense will or should replicate those exact same schemes of his former teams. Is it fair to expect Flores to maintain his aggressive approach by being a league-leader in blitz rate with the Vikings? With the loss of Za’Darius Smith, it’ll be mighty tough to expect the Vikings to consistently create pressure with just four.

Ultimately, the best coaches like Daboll and Flores recognize what is required for their respective units to put their team in a position to win each week. For example, Brian Billick tried (and failed miserably) to bring his high-flying aerial offensive attack for the 1998 Vikings with him to the Baltimore Ravens for the first year and a half of his tenure before conceding to a ground-and-pound offense that played to his all-time defense’s strengths.

It’s nearly impossible for NFL coaches to achieve success without a bevy of talent at their disposal. As the saying goes, “It’s not about the Xs and Os, but the Jimmys and Joes.” However, coaches like Daboll have proven to be the exception to the rule. And the dream-scenario for the Vikings’ defense with Flores is to be 2023’s defensive version of Daboll’s and Kafka’s offense with the Giants from last year.

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