Green Bay Packers

All I Want For Christmas Is A Brian Flores Defense

Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers defense has been into the giving spirit this holiday season, gifting opposing quarterbacks their best games of the year!

After making Tommy DeVito and Baker Mayfield look like peak Peyton Manning, they bequeathed the struggling Bryce Young with the best game of his young career on Christmas Eve. Young had his season-high in passing yards, and the Carolina Panthers had their season-high in points, yards, first downs, and explosive plays. Mamma mia!

Next on the slate is Jaren Hall and the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings might be on their fourth starting quarterback, but playing against a Joe Barry defense is the best way to give a QB confidence.

While Barry’s defense will likely end 2023 on a whimper, I’ll jealously focus on Minnesota’s defense. Few coordinators are doing more with less than Brian Flores. The former Miami Dolphins head coach was my favorite option for the Packers last offseason when I foolishly thought the Packers would make a change at DC. Instead, we’ll look at why Flores should be the blueprint for Green Bay’s defense in the future.

Barry is an easy punching bag for this fanbase, thanks to his long tenure of mediocre-at-best defensive groups. Barry got a fair chance to showcase his evolution in Green Bay, but it’s clear his scheme just isn’t working.

Soft, predictable zone coverage schemes have defined Barry’s defense. It has produced an inconsistent pass rush, non-existent run defense, and many communication issues. He has also put players in poor positions multiple times. Despite being one of the most expensive defensive groups, chock-a-block with first-round draft picks, Green Bay’s defense ranks 30th by DVOA, ahead of only the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Commanders.

It’s a night-and-day difference from Flores’ fifth-ranked unit. While the Vikings are middle-of-the-road in many defensive stats like yards allowed, sacks, and interceptions, they’ve done an excellent job as a unit. They have given up 30-plus points only twice and shut out the Las Vegas Raiders in an otherwise painful-to-watch Week 14 game.

Flores worked under Bill Belichick as the linebackers coach and de facto defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, and he was a defensive assistant under Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh. Flores created his system using a blend of those two systems. The model below makes Flores’ system look like a predictable coverage scheme, but Flores is brilliant and disguises what he wants to do. He can drop eight or rush six from the same look based on the offense’s intent.

And he does this with a group lacking much proven star power. The Vikings lost Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Eric Kendricks, and Cam Dantzler during free agency, leaving Flores with a shallower group than the one Ed Donatell led the previous year. But that hasn’t stopped Minnesota’s defense from punching well above their weight class this season.

It’s not a perfect system, obviously. The Vikings still have a .500 record and their usual allotment of coin-flip endings. But they have a well-coordinated defense. They know when to be aggressive, how to disguise intent, and how to squeeze every drop out of their players. It’s the exact opposite of how the Packers operate.

It seems like we’re living in Joe Barry’s final days. However, the Packers won’t make that move until their season ends. We don’t know exactly what LaFleur will seek in his next coordinator. He may try another Vic Fangio disciple, especially with former acquaintance Brandon Staley available. The idea of a “current system but better run” upgrade makes sense, but I believe LaFleur should cast a wider net.

Green Bay’s defenses didn’t frighten opponents regardless of whether Dom Capers, Mike Pettine, or Joe Barry was in charge. Each coordinator had his strengths, but the defense lacked aggressiveness and fire. Barry’s comments about how the final score on the board is all that matters isn’t a great philosophy. Former defensive lineman Mike Daniels has repeatedly commented that his aggressive style never felt at home in Green Bay.

The Packers need a new type of cultural approach for defense. Jordan Love looks like a legitimate QB1, but Green Bay can’t expect him to drag a struggling defense kicking and screaming on deep playoff runs. They need a defense with an identity and ability to win games and play complementary football.

Brian Flores’ defenses have many traits I’d like to see in the next defensive coordinator. His ability to disguise his intent matches LaFleur’s patented “illusion of complexity” philosophy well. He’s getting good results from a shallow group of options, the opposite of Barry getting so little out of his stacked unit. He actually changes his approach from week to week. I’m not sure who fits this criteria, but Flores should be the model for Green Bay’s next DC.

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