Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores is the NFL’s binary pass-rush expert

The Vikings’ defense is one of the NFL’s most effective and predictable, and Brian Flores’ multiple pressure looks have made the difference.

When the Denver Broncos face off against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, one thing’s for sure — Denver’s offense will not know what it gets from play to play. That’s because Minnesota defensive coordinator Brian Flores is an expert in skirting the edges in quarterback pressure to either end of the spectrum.

What does that mean?

The Vikings lead the NFL in three-man rushes on 79 attempts, allowing 50 completions for 409 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 69.8.

The Vikings also lead the NFL in pass plays with six or more rushers on 103 attempts, allowing 74 completions for 843 yards, nine touchdowns, three interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 113.0.

To put that blitz frequency in perspective, the New England Patriots rank second in attempts against with six or more pass-rushers… with 38. The Saints rank second in three-man rushes with 50. So, Flores has carved out the two things he wants to do, and damn the torpedoes. 

Minnesota’s blitz looks are generally pretty clear. There are a lot of four-man base fronts with a linebacker and an extra edge player (usually a defensive back) going after the quarterback. Flores will also send two linebackers in addition to his base rushers, mugged up over one offensive lineman. When Flores was the Miami Dolphins’ head coach, he was notorious for Cover-0 blitzes in which there was no deep safety and it was man coverage across, and he’ll still do that to a degree, as was the case against the Chicago Bears in Week 6 – the result here was an interception by cornerback Byron Murphy on a throw from quarterback Tyson Bagent to receiver D.J. Moore.

These days, though, Flores is just as likely to call zone coverage behind his blitzes. Against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9, this sack of quarterback Taylor Heinicke was facilitated in part because Cover-4 complicated the picture just long enough for linebackers Ivan Pace Jr. and Jordan Hicks to get home.

But when discussing Flores’ overall approach, remember those three-man pressure numbers. Especially recently, Flores is throwing more of those rush-three/drop eight looks at opponents, and it’s working. This approach was more evident against the Falcons in Week 9, when the Vikings rushed three on 17 snaps,  by far the most in the league for that week.

That approach continued against the Saints last Sunday.

This Byron Murphy interception of a Jameis Winston throw to receiver Rashid Shaheed was a combination of a couple things — a pre-snap blitz look with an eight-man drop post-snap, and Winston fixating on Shaheed when A.T. Perry was open from the inside slot. Jameis gonna Jameis, but it was still a good look into Cover-2, and Flores has been great at disguising coverages and making quarterbacks pay when they guess wrong.

The Broncos’ offense with Russell Wilson under Sean Payton has been surprisingly scrappy this season, but they’ll have to watch out for a defensive mind in Flores who will throw things at you that you can never really predict.

Payton alluded to that when asked on Friday about the Vikings’ blitz predilections.

“I chuckled here for a second because for the last 48 hours, we have looked at all the tape. Clearly, from a pressure standpoint, if you just look at any analytical study, there’s more six-man pressure. A four man would be a normal rush, and a single pressure would be five. There are more six, seven and max blitzes. They come out of them. They really force your hand a little bit. We talked about communication being important. I mentioned that in this type of game, I’m glad we are playing it at home because communication becomes harder on the road with the silent snap count in the gun. What you’re seeing, what you saw, and what you’re discussing is absolutely true.

“At first blush, let’s call it the first six hours, you go get another coffee and you start again. Here we are on Day 2, and it gets clearer and clearer and clearer. Certainly, when we go through keys to victory, one of them on offense is understanding, communication and knowing what we are getting out of their ‘penny’ front, what we are getting out of their ‘nickel’ front, and identifying what kind of pressure it is. It can be busy and noisy when you first look at it.”

In this week’s “Xs and Os with Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar,” the guys get into why Flores’ calls have been so effective. You can watch the entire video, previewing all of Week 11’s biggest matchups, right here.

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You can also subscribe to the “Xs and Os” podcast on Spotify…

…and on Apple Podcasts.

Anatomy of a Play: Josh Dobbs’ TD to T.J. Hockenson showed great command of Vikings’ offense

Josh Dobbs’ touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson showed the Vikings’ new quarterback’s amazing command of the system in a very short time.

In the Minnesota Vikings’ last two games with Josh Dobbs either as the primary quarterback in Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons or in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints, tight end T.J. Hockenson has been the NFL’s most productive player in the NFL at his position, with a league-high 18 catches for a league-high 204 yards and a touchdown.

The touchdown, which came with 22 seconds left in the first half of Minnesota’s 27-19 win, showed Dobbs’ subtle command of both the quarterback position, and of head coach Kevin O’Connell’s offense. Hockenson ran a post from the left slot, and Dobbs helped his receiver get open by moving his body in such a way that safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. might have believed that Dobbs was going to throw the ball elsewhere — perhaps something else to Hockenson, perhaps the in-cut to Jordan Addison on that side. Johnson got depth as a result of Dobbs’ movement. and that opened the post for Hockenson.

As Hockenson said, per our friends at Vikings Wire, there was an option element to the play.

“That’s a K.O. [O’Connell] special,” Hockenson said. “We kind of get an option to freelance a little bit, so saw what the safety was doing; he played outside, tried to lean him a little bit and get separation and Josh and I were on the same page. That was just a lot of fun.”

O’Connell also mentioned Hockenson’s ability to push Johnson vertically and then work inside in this breakdown.

But that’s not the only component of this throw. From the end zone angle, watch how Dobbs threw the ball over the head of linebacker Demario Davis, who had dropped as the middle-hole defender.

That, folks, is a professional throw.

As it turns out, Dobbs’ comfort with Hockenson isn’t accidental — the two have worked out together occasionally before either player was a member of the Vikings.

“Yeah, it definitely helps,” Dobbs said this week. “Obviously when we did those workouts, I think one year he was in Detroit at the time, and then it was this past offseason, as well, when he was already in Minnesota, so obviously I wasn’t his quarterback and it’s not like we planned on doing that in a game. But it was cool to have banked reps and banked communication with somebody, right? Especially one of your best playmakers on offense. [It’s good to] have reps with him, have a feel for how he gets in and out of routes.

“Obviously, there’s a matchup issue, and it shows on Sunday. So, getting that feel as the quarterback, it does take a different level when you have a guy that big who’s able to move the way he does. So, to have those reps has only helped us get on to the same page very quickly – obviously we saw the production in the first half – so yeah, we want to continue to add on to those improvements. I think I may have missed, some of them were a little behind him, where I can work on a better ball location so he can run and get some more yards after catch. We’re always finding ways we can improve so we can be better on Sunday.”

In this week’s “Xs and Os with Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar,” the guys get into how well Dobbs has taken command of Kevin O’Connell’s offense far more quickly than anybody had a right to expect.

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You can watch this week’s “Xs and Os with Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar,” featuring all of Week 11’s biggest games, right here:

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You can also subscribe to the “Xs and Os” podcast on Spotify…

…and on Apple Podcasts.

2024 NFL Mock Draft: Bears rule the roost with two top-five picks

In this two-round 2024 NFL mock draft, the Chicago Bears continue with Justin Fields as their quarterback, and start to build around him with the first and fifth picks.

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The Chicago Bears’ 16-13 win over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night was a double victory for the Monsters of the Midway. Not only did they “up” their record to 3-7 on the season, but the first-round Panthers pick, owned by the Bears as part of the trade to select Bryce Young with the first pick in the 2023 NFL draft, is now the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft, because the Panthers are 1-8.

That puts forth an interesting question for the Bears, and whoever’s in charge of their personnel in 2024, whether it’s current general manager Ryan Poles, or somebody else: Are they happy enough with the development of quarterback Justin Fields (when he’s healthy) to avoid taking one of the two rock star quarterbacks — USC’s Caleb Williams of North Carolina’s Drake Maye — with that first pick? Chicago also has its own fifth overall pick as a result of its own dismal record, so it’s either hold onto Fields and build around him, or punt to a new guy.

In this mock draft, the Bears do show faith in Fields, giving him a possibly “generational” receiver in Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. with the first pick, and a potential franchise edge-rusher in UCLA’s Laiatu Latu.

For the rest of the picks in this two-round mock, read below.

Taysom Hill continues to do it all for Saints

Taysom Hill has a TD reception and a TD throw for New Orleans

Just give Taysom Hill the damn ball. It doesn’t matter how he gets it, good things happen for the New Orleans Saints when he does.

The Saints’ Hill had a touchdown reception and threw a touchdown pass on Sunday as New Orleans dueled the Chicago Bears.

Hill’s accomplishments have him in rare company in NFL history.

4-Down Territory, in which Doug and Kyle are REALLY tired of bad officiating

More bad NFL officiating, trades we’d like to see happen, defensive player MVPs, and the Worst of the Week — it’s time for 4-Down Territory!

With seven weeks of actual football in the books for the 2023 NFL season, it’s time for Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire, and Kyle Madson of Niners Wire, to come to the table with their own unique brand of analysis in “4-Down Territory.”

This week, the guys discuss these four downs:

  1. Does the NFL even care how bad officiating is right now?
  2. Which NFL trade should happen before the October 31 deadline?
  3. Could a defensive player win NFL MVP this season?
  4. And of course, our Worst of the Week!

You can watch this week’s “4-Down Territory” right here:

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You can also listen and subscribe to the “4-Down Territory” podcast on Spotify…

…and on Apple Podcasts.

The NFL’s Worst of the Week: Bad officiating, Deshaun Watson’s issues, Derek Carr’s loud misses

More bad officiating! The Saints, Raiders, and Commanders are disasters! What happened to Detroit’s defense? It’s time for the NFL’s Worst of the Week.

Football is a wonderful, thrilling, inspiring game that can lift us to new heights in our lives.

But football is also a weird, inexplicable, at times downright stupid game that may force you to perform Keith Moon-level furniture destruction in your own living room.

So, as much as we at Touchdown Wire endeavor to write about what makes the game great, there are also times when it’s important to point out the dumb plays, boneheaded decisions, and officiating errors that make football all too human.

Folks, it’s time for the Worst of the Week for Week 7 of the 2023 NFL season.

The good news and bad news for the Saints

Even at 3-4, the New Orleans Saints’ season is far from over.

There were a lot of people who drank the New Orleans Saints Kool-Aid coming into this season. They fielded a really tough defense in 2022 and won seven games with Andy Dalton at the helm for the majority of the season. One would make the assumption that adding a more viable quarterback would push them to more wins in the sickly NFC South.

The Saints thought the same thing, which is why they went out and signed Derek Carr. who had four consecutive seasons of 4,000 yards passing from 2018-21 with the Las Vegas Raiders before becoming the scapegoat in Josh McDaniels’ House of Pain.

By all accounts, it made sense for the Saints to bring in Carr, but for several reasons, it has yet to pay off. He is currently 23rd in EPA/play, which is behind the likes of Ryan Tannehill and Sam Howell. He’s also 24th in success rate, which puts him behind Mac Jones and Jordan Love. Carr has also only thrown six touchdown passes to four interceptions and has a passer rating of 82.8, which would be the lowest passer rating he’s put up since his rookie year in 2014.

A big reason for this is the lack of juice the Saints have offensively. Chris Olave looked good as a rookie, but has yet to put together any sustainable chemistry with Carr. Alvin Kamara is great, we know that, but he was gone for the first three weeks and the offense was noticeably worse without him. Outside of those two, what else does New Orleans have? The ghost of Michael Thomas? Rashid Shaheed? Taysom Hill? No offense to any of those guys, but no defensive coordinator is getting gray hair trying to figure out how to cover Rashid Shaheed, and Taysom Hill is only relevant when he’s poaching one-yard touchdowns, or when your uncle talks about how gritty he is at Thanksgiving dinner. So while Carr has been less than optimal, he can’t throw the ball to himself.

Now, there are two silver linings for the Saints. For starters, their defense is capital G good. They are sixth in the NFL in EPA/play and third in success rate, trailing only Cleveland and Baltimore in the latter category. They don’t have any glaring holes on that side of the ball. Cameron Jordan is a future Hall of Famer that is still playing near the top of his game. Carl Granderson recently got a well-earned extension, and Demario Davis and Peter Werner are both very good in the middle of the defense. Plus, Marshon Lattimore and Tyrann Mathieu on the back end, and the likes of Alontae Taylor and Paulson Adebo have both proven to be good role players, as well. They are getting major production from their stars and the remainder of their starters, which is keeping them in games.

Additionally, the rest of their schedule is as easy as it comes in the league. Here are their remaining games:

  • at Colts
  • vs. Bears
  • at Vikings
  • at Falcons
  • vs. Lions
  • vs. Panthers
  • vs. Giants
  • at Rams
  • at Buccaneers
  • vs. Falcons

The only game where they seem completely outmatched is against the Lions. The remaining nine games are all very winnable. While the Saints are far from a great team, they benefit from playing a cupcake schedule in a cupcake division while fielding a great defense. Even at 3-4, that is the silver lining, and their season is far from over.

Anatomy of a Play: What went wrong on Derek Carr’s loud incompletion to Chris Olave?

Derek Carr was visibly frustrated with a deep incompletion to Chris Olave on Thursday. Here’s why he should have been unhappy with himself.

Not much went right for quarterback Derek Carr in the New Orleans Saints’ 31-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday. Carr completed 33 passes on 55 attempts for 301 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a passer rating of 73.4. Were it not for a no-huddle series in the fourth quarter in which Carr completed three passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in 51 seconds, it would have been even worse.

The nadir of Carr’s game was this throw out of bounds with 10:44 left in the game.

Carr did indeed seem quite miffed at his receiver for giving up on the route, but as Saints receiver Michael Thomas said of the play (he later deleted the tweet), Olave wasn’t even in the progression. Olave’s vertical route would be to clear things out to that side.

If that’s the case, Carr’s reads should have been to Taysom Hill running the speed out from the right slot, then Rashid Shaheed on the short crosser from the left slot, and finally, Thomas to the back side. It was third-and-5, so why Carr uncorked this throw is a mystery.

“I think that’s frustrating,” head coach Dennis Allen said after the game regarding his quarterback and receivers being on the same page… or not. “That is probably one of the things that I’m most frustrated about is just that part of that inconsistency. We have got to…somehow, someway, we have to get those guys on the same page. There’s a lot that goes into that.”

“I wasn’t talking to Chris, like the past two weeks I was just talking in general,” Carr said of the play. “There were some things that happened today that led to some pretty big negative plays that should never happened, and I think that’s where my frustration came from.”

Based on Thomas’ evidence, throwing to receivers in the progression would be a great start to turning those frowns upside down.

Twitter reacts to the Jaguars outlasting the Saints 31-24 on Thursday Night Football

Twitter was full of takes as the Jacksonville Jaguars knocked off the New Orleans Saints 31-24 on Thursday Night Football.

The New Orleans Saints had an opportunity slip through their fingers.

On third-and-goal from the 6-yard line with 30 seconds left, down 31-24, quarterback Derek Carr put the ball right on tight end Foster Moreau’s hands in the left back corner of the end zone. The ball hopped out of Moreau’s grasp incomplete.

The Saints wouldn’t convert, and the Jacksonville Jaguars came away with the win on Thursday Night Football.

Trevor Lawrence was outstanding as he went 20-of-29 for 204 yards and a touchdown along with rushing eight times for 59 yards.

Carr may have been sacked once during his 33-of-55 for 301 yards with a touchdown and interception performance, but Twitter assuredly gave him more pressure.

Here are some of the best takes from social media throughout the game.

Saints score quickly after stopping Jaguars’ fourth-down attempt

Derek Carr and the Saints rallied to tie the Jaguars

The New Orleans Saints’ offense came to life thanks to an assist from the defense.

Once down 24-9, New Orleans rallied to tie the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday Night Football.

The big defensive play was the Saints stopping the Jags’ Travis Etienne on a fourth down play.

Three plays — all completions — later and New Orleans was in the end zone, thanks to a great catch by Michael Thomas.

At 24-22, New Orleans went for two and Derek Carr found Alvin Kamara to tie the game.