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.
The Vikings had their lowest blitz rate of the season today (21.3%) as Brian Flores continues to oscillate between various approaches. When rushing 4 (or fewer), they sacked Derek Carr twice and intercepted Jameis Winston twice, per @ESPNStatsInfo.
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) November 13, 2023
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.
[anyclip-media thumbnail=”https://cdn5.anyclip.com/Diq_1osBA9ifkkHMjIFC/1700116497519_248x140_thumbnail.jpg” playlistId=”undefined” content=”PHNjcmlwdCBzcmM9Imh0dHBzOi8vcGxheWVyLnBvcHRvay5jb20vYW55Y2xpcC13aWRnZXQvbHJlLXdpZGdldC9wcm9kL3YxL3NyYy9scmUuanMiIGRhdGEtYXI9IjE2OjkiIGRhdGEtcGxpZD0iaXJ1eGN4enJuNXp1ZXFqem5mdGd3MjJpanZ2ZXNyc2QiIHB1Ym5hbWU9IjE5OTgiIHdpZGdldG5hbWU9IjAwMTZNMDAwMDJVMEIxa1FBRl9NODMyNSI+Cjwvc2NyaXB0Pg==”][/anyclip-media]
You can also subscribe to the “Xs and Os” podcast on Spotify…
…and on Apple Podcasts.